Having George Eustice at the cabinet table during such a pivotal time for agriculture will benefit farmers across the whole of the UK, says Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Conservative Shadow Rural Affairs Minister.
With ‘Brexit done’ and the United Kingdom finally departing the European Union, it’s all change in the Prime Minister’s cabinet.
Last week’s reshuffle saw George Eustice taking the reins at Defra.
From a farming perspective, his appointment as the new Secretary of State has been welcomed by the unions in Wales and I’m pleased to say I share this optimism.
First and foremost, George Eustice has been a mighty fine Minister of State, and many will remember his honourable resignation from Government on a point of principle, which is alien to many in the political trade.
And it’s always reassuring to see a holder of such a position coming from strong family farming stock.
He’s been a well-respected voice in the farming community, and having him batting for the industry at the cabinet table during this pivotal time for British agriculture will be beneficial for farmers the length and breadth of the UK.
As someone who voted to leave the European Union, I’ve got no doubt he’ll be working night and day to ensure we achieve the full potential of the rural economy, securing access to key markets and also maintaining ‘equivalence’ on food standards for imported products.
Hundreds of farmers from across the country will gather in London on March 25 to join the NFU in pushing this point with a rallying call to Government, urging it to commit to ensuring future UK trade policy will not allow imports of food produced to standards that would be illegal in the UK.
I believe the Government has been crystal clear that it will hold the line on upholding British farming’s high standards in trade deals, and crucially must hold imports entering the country to that same standard, but it never hurts to give decision-makers a little nudge.
Moving forward into the trade negotiations, it’s vital the Ministers hold their nerve as the rhetoric will undoubtedly get somewhat inflamed and choppy over the coming months, particularly from our friends over the channel.
But let’s be clear; we want a relationship with the EU which is based on friendly cooperation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade.
The UK Government has been clear it is after a Canada-style Free Trade Agreement relationship, which the EU has regularly said is on offer – even if the EU itself is now backtracking on the idea.
That’s unfortunate, but hopefully a negotiating bump we can overcome.
It’s in everyone’s interests to put the heavy rhetoric to one side and move forward with a relationship which is inspired by our shared history and values.
Quite rightly, attention on such discussions has been on the backburner this week, as all efforts and thoughts remain with those who have been affected by flooding and disruption caused by Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis.
Earlier this week, I visited residents and communities in the Valleys which have been devastated by the weather, with some people losing absolutely everything.
Words can seem rather hollow at such times, but it’s been heartening to see the immense community spirit on show across the country.
It’s been Wales at its very best.
At the right time, there will be the undoubted post-mortem about climate change and our flood defences, but in the first instance, the Welsh Government must ensure all possible funding is made available to councils, emergency services and Natural Resources Wales to maintain the momentum of the vast clean-up operation.
From an agricultural perspective, there are many stories of farmers seeing their whole arable crop production wash away.
Oil seed and wheat can’t be grown overnight and this will be a mammoth 12-18 month, or even two-year, process for many farming operations.
Farm support needs to be put in place and we also need to have Governments at both ends of the M4 working together to ensure insurance companies are quick to react to claims.
Where people could not get insurance, a funding stream needs to be created to enable them to get back on their feet.
In the longer-term, the Welsh Government must put a rate relief scheme in place to help businesses get back up and running, as cash flow will have been badly hit.
Revaluating our land management, meeting tree-planting targets, reversing the cuts to NRW’s budget and upping investment in its activities is now also a must.
Many people across south Wales have lost everything, and Governments of both colours – red and blue – must continue to respond positively to the pleas for support and be that helping hand to put people’s lives and communities back together.
Andrew can be found tweeting at @AndrewRTDavies