Even with the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement on the table, the threat of a ‘nightmare’ no-deal Brexit still looms large, says NFU Cymru livestock board chairman Wyn Evans.
As the Welsh agricultural industry looks ahead to one of the highlights in the UK livestock calendar, the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, farmers in Wales remain anxious about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
While political developments seem to gather pace and a draft Withdrawal Agreement has now been set down by the Prime Minister, the ongoing political uncertainty means the threat of a no-deal Brexit still looms large, and that outcome would be a nightmare for the Welsh farming industry.
The Royal Welsh Winter Fair is an event that is synonymous with the best primestock not just in Wales, but anywhere in the world.
It looks likely that this year’s event will be the last in which the UK is still a member state of the European Union.
While the threat of a no-deal Brexit is still at the door, Welsh farmers are rightly worried about the devastating impact that could have on our industry.
It is clear that opportunities exist for the Welsh farming industry in a future outside of the European Union, but even the most optimistic of Welsh farmers will be wincing when it comes to considering a future where we crash out of the EU and fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.
Exports of lamb would face an effective tariff rate of 46 per cent, whilst for beef effective rates would be much higher at anything between 48 per cent and 84 per cent, according to the cut.
At the same time, we could see the UK Government lower or remove import tariffs on imported food.
A no-deal scenario will see the UK needing to be recognised as a third country by the EU, with access to our closest and largest market closed until this approval is gained.
It is a process dependent on political will which could take six months or longer.
NFU Cymru gave a cautious welcome to the Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration.
The Withdrawal Agreement provides for a transition period of almost two years, during which time everything remains largely the same, and would offer the sector some stability and certainty.
While I struggle to see how our level and ease of access to European markets can ever be the same as it is now post-transition, the political declaration, which considers our trading relationship with the EU27 after the end of the transition, does at least go some way towards the free and frictionless trade that we all want to see with the EU.
The talk of a comprehensive agreement on a free-trade area, with provisions ensuring zero tariffs, no fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors, is welcome.
As is reference to recognising the UK’s commitments on customs and regulatory co-operation, including alignment on rules, when applying checks and controls at the border.
The time has come for politicians across all parties to put their political differences and career aspirations aside to secure a future that is in the interest of the people of the UK and Welsh farmers, in particular.
Farming is a long-term business and the ongoing uncertainty over our future relationship with the EU makes it extremely difficult for farmers to take decisions that will affect their businesses long into the future.
It is time that uncertainty was put to bed.
As the nation’s food producers and custodians of the Welsh environment, landscape and our language, we have a critical role to play for our communities.
Now is the time to provide us with the clarity and certainty that will enable us to make important decisions to drive our businesses forward and ensure we keep delivering for Wales.