Top policy-makers in Whitehall are clueless about how Britain’s agricultural trade works, according to a leading industry group boss.
Tim Rycroft, corporate affairs director at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), made the remarks at NFU Cymru’s annual conference in Llandrindod Wells last week.
Mr Rycroft explained how complicated European tariffs on fresh fruit and vegetables were, but expressed surprise that officials and politicians had still not got to grips with the rules more than a year after the vote to leave the EU.
To illustrate the point, he used the example of oranges, which have seven pages of tariffs dedicated to them – with an amount owed per tonne, plus a percentage of the price and changeable rates designed to protect Mediterranean growers during harvest season.
Mr Rycroft said: “One of the things which has emerged over the past few months as we have engaged with policy-makers on this issue is they generally have no idea how complex this stuff is.
“They do not understand the detail of the complex food and drink supply chains, or the fact that raw materials and half-finished goods cross borders endlessly. All those things have come as a surprise to them.”
A Department for International Trade (DIT) spokesman told Farmers Guardian Ministers and officials across DIT, Defra and the Department for Exiting the EU regularly met key stakeholders in the food and drinks industry, adding DIT’s 400-strong Trade Policy Group was made up of sectoral experts, policy specialists, country specialists, economic analysts and lawyers.
Mr Rycroft also hit out at the Government for failing to provide any clarity on the transition period proposed by the Prime Minister in her Florence speech.
He suggested companies would start moving production overseas and put a stop to investment if they did not see some concrete detail in the next couple of months.
“We told the Government we need to know what transition looks like by Christmas”, he said.
“I think it is an ambitious timescale, but our members, big manufacturing companies, work on a two-year planning horizon.
“March 2019 is already looking very close, and if we get into the new year without any clarity about the transition, people will start to implement their contingency plans.”