Sir Richard Packer told Farmers Guardian there was a ’good chance’ of free trade in agricultural goods post-Brexit
The UK’s position as a major food importer means it has a strong chance of shaping a trade deal with the EU which is beneficial to both sides. That is the view of Sir Richard Packer, who was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) during the 90s.
He told Farmers Guardian there was a ‘good chance’ of achieving free trade in agricultural goods between the UK and the EU – if both sides behaved logically.
Mr Packer’s comments came as the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) published a report he has written, which said the UK’s large trade deficit with the EU in agriculture and food would give the Government a ‘strong hand to deploy’ in Brexit negotiations.
In the document, he points to figures which show the UK’s trade deficit – the amount by which the cost of imports exceeds the value of exports – in food, feed and drink was £20 billion a year, of which £16.7 billion was with the EU.
The report said: “The UK food market is very important for the EU and it is clear they will not be happy if charges at the level of the present EU external tariff are levied on their exports to the UK.
“But that is exactly what will happen unless some special arrangement to stop it is adopted. Otherwise, after Brexit, the EU would have to compete with others in the UK market such as Israel, North African countries and so on.
“Thus it is apparent that the EU will be keener to secure special arrangements for agricultural trade than will the UK.”
Mr Packer went on to say the Government must begin pursuing trade deals with non-EU countries now, but pointed out many of the countries the UK may look to do deals with such as Australia, New Zealand, the US and Brazil would seek ‘extensive agricultural concessions’ which could drive down UK prices of beef, lamb and dairy products.
He noted World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would prevent the Government from offering compensation if this were the case.
The report also claimed there would be scope for establishing better national rules in some policy areas, particularly GM, and said parliament would have to ensure EU laws in force at the point of Brexit continued to apply immediately afterwards to ‘avoid chaos’.