While the Brexit White Paper, ‘The Future Relationship Between the UK and the European Union’ seeks to ‘establish a new free trade area and maintain a common rulebook for goods, including agri-food, covering only those rules necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border’ the devil will be in the detail.
Jack Watts, NFU chief combinable crops adviser says: “It is important to have frictionless trade with our grain, particularly malting barley, to be able to access the European market and for some milling wheat and rapeseed. It is a very competitive world outside of Europe and we are a relatively high cost producer so it is important we remain aligned with the European market to trade with that market and to function.
“However, there are lots of questions around the detail.”
The White Paper says the UK and the EU would maintain a common rulebook for agri-food goods, with the UK making an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods. “This could mean we are a rule taker – in that sense a lot of the devil will be in the detail,” says Mr Watts.
With discussions already going on in the EU about post-2020 CAP reform and what that means in terms of giving more autonomy to individual member states, who may have the ability to put their own rules in place, Mr Watts says: “It will be interesting to see what the rule book means for the UK.”
The UK Government is also seeking to participate in EU agencies such as the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) - which classifies chemicals, including agrochemicals - albeit without voting rights and which would involve making an appropriate financial contribution, according to the White Paper.
Mr Watts says: “We’re trying to figure out how that works as the European Court has jurisdiction over ECHA.”
“The whole plant health area is complicated. There is an opportunity, potentially, for the UK to remain in step with a potential rule book but also to have its own process for approvals. This would be an opportunity to improve efficiency and the science that goes into approving pesticides.”
The White Paper does not specifically mention EFSA, which is currently involved in risk assessment of plant protection products.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if the UK was to move to a more scientific, risk-based approach but how much will our hands will be tied to having a common rule book? Will we end up taking the rules and losing our influence? That doesn’t feel like progress to me.”