The UK may be forced to import more food from the rest of the world if the benefits of EU trade agreements with third countries are to be maintained during any Brexit transition period, it has emerged.
Ministers have brought forward a Trade Bill to ‘rollover’ EU deals with 50 other countries, including Mexico and Ukraine, but several of those countries have indicated their intention to press for greater market access as part of the process.
Exporters in these third countries will still be able to send products to the UK under the same terms they currently do during transition, because the Government has agreed to follow the rules of the single market and customs union in that time.
But whether or not those countries continue to offer preferential access for UK produce during transition is up to them, and at least three have suggested they will only do so if they are guaranteed longer-term concessions.
Sam Lowe, a trade expert from the Centre for European Reform, told Farmers Guardian South Korea and Chile were pressing for greater future access to the UK market, with Chile primarily interested in sending more meat, biofuels and fruit to Britain.
“South Africa has said while it is happy to use its existing agreement with the EU as a baseline, it will push for further concessions from the UK on agriculture quotas and food standards”, Mr Lowe added.
“The UK may be able to buy itself more time by remaining party to existing trade agreements throughout the transition, but it will still need to replace the free trade agreements it enjoys as a result of its EU membership ready for full exit.
“Many of these partner countries will push for new concessions from the UK, and I would imagine many will get them.”
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of food and farming alliance Sustain, said trading partners were bound to make increased market demands from the UK after Brexit.
“We are calling for transparency in these trade talks and for our trade negotiators to give us cast iron guarantees they will champion high standards for food, farming and fishing”, she added.
A Department for International Trade spokesman, however, described the rollover as a ‘technical exercise’, not an opportunity to renegotiate trade terms.
“We have already held discussions with more than 70 nations, including Chile and South Africa, to secure continuity in the UK’s international trade agreements and none have displayed any interest in disrupting trade flows or creating new barriers to trade”, the spokesman added.