French farm and agribusiness leaders are desperate to maintain close trading links with the UK after Brexit, but not to the extent of being willing to break ranks with the EU’s negotiating position.
Jacques Poulet, animal division director of Coop de France, an umbrella body representing 2,600 co-ops and 60,000 farmers with a national turnover of €84 billion (£75bn), said: “Brexit is a catastrophe for all of us.
“It is all very sad. You really should not have decided to leave.”
Mr Poulet was speaking at Space 2018, an international farm and food event held in Brittany, a region which has especially close farm trading relationships with the UK, links many believe are now in danger of serious disruption.
Herve Guyomard, research director at INRA, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, added: “The post-Brexit period is going to be really difficult.
“There is a real risk of problems developing between farmers here in Brittany and those in the UK, with producers becoming increasingly aware of distortions between our two industries.”
Despite stating France ‘needed’ to maintain a strong commercial relationship with the UK and Ireland, he added such a relationship would only be possible if the final Brexit deal maintained some form of commercial union between the UK and the EU.
Laurent Kerlir, regional president of Brittany Chamber of Agriculture, made a similar point, suggesting a good deal on Brexit would be more important for farmers in Brittany than in many other parts of France due to the region’s close cross-Channel links.
“Unfortunately President Macron has met Prime Minister May and they do not agree,” he said, adding that going it alone on a France-UK basis or even a Brittany-UK basis was simply not possible.
Christiane Lambert, president of the French farmers’ union FNSEA, agreed.
She said: “We obviously sell a considerable amount of French fruit, cheese and wine into the UK and would like to continue doing so after Brexit, but that does not mean we can proceed as if the Brexit vote did not take place.
“Our view, in fact, is it will be important to have some strict rules governing future trade relations between the EU and Britain, not least to avoid other EU members from saying the UK left and nothing really changed.”