EU farm and food chain groups have called for temporary arrangements to be put in place to protect trade with the UK in the event that a free trade deal cannot be agreed by the end of the year.
Copa and Cogeca, Celcaa and FoodDrinkEurope have warned the lack of progress during the first three rounds of negotiations, the most recent of which was concluded last week, could have a serious impact on the agri-food sector on both sides of the Channel.
In a joint statement, the three organisations said they ‘regretted’ the UK Government’s opposition to any extension of the transition period, which is currently due to expire on December 31, 2020.
The EU exports €37bn of food products to the UK every year, while the UK exports £13.7bn (€15.3bn) to the EU.
If no deal between the two parties can be agreed, UK exports such as lamb will face crippling tariffs.
The three EU groups said: “We urge the consideration of alternative, temporary arrangements that could be implemented from the start of 2021 should it not prove possible to conclude a free trade agreement this year.
“Such temporary arrangements, which would be needed to preserve tariff and quota free trade, would afford additional time for negotiators while minimising disruption for operators already coping with significant impacts of Covid-19.”
In the UK, CLA president Mark Bridgeman was also ‘greatly concerned’ by the limited progress in the talks.
He said: “The EU sells £33bn of agricultural products to the UK each year – almost £20bn more than we sell to them – so the Prime Minister is absolutely right to have confidence in the value of our market.
“But make no mistake, without a quality free trade agreement, thousands of farmers both in the UK and the EU would go out of business, with all the devastation to lives and communities which go with it.”
The main sticking points in the negotiations are over fisheries and level playing field (LPF) provisions, which are designed to stop countries gaining a competitive advantage over their rivals through deregulation.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has already said the UK would be prepared to accept tariffs on certain goods in order to avoid applying LPF measures.
Continued protection for UK Geographical Indicators (GIs) such as Welsh lamb and Stilton cheese is another key battleground, because the Withdrawal Agreement secured recognition for EU GIs in the UK, without reciprocal guarantees.