Friday, 19 January 2018

Brexit: and producing food in the UK

As a rural county, how Brexit will affect farming is of considerable interest.

These are postings on this blog from only this month:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and whether subsidies are bad for sustainable agriculture...
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the farmer-scientist network
Futures Forum: Brexit: and a moment of opportunity for rural England?
Futures Forum: Brexit: and reaction to the latest plans for farming >>> "We're very proud of our high standards of environmental protection, of welfare, in the UK and we want those to be respected in any trade negotiation and we do not want to see cheaper food produced to lower standards."

'ADAS is the UK’s largest independent provider of agricultural and environmental consultancy, research and development, and policy advice.'

And here is its latest piece of advice:

UK Food Production in a post-Brexit World

Published on 15 January 2018
Author: Andrew Walker

What will food production look like in the post-Brexit United Kingdom? Will we pursue some kind of self-sufficiency agenda once we have parted company with the European Union (EU), which notably will also probably see the UK exit the Single Market, increasing the amount of food produced domestically to the point where it would become unnecessary to import food? Or is it more a case of ensuring that we continue to ensure food security – a different concept to ‘self-sufficiency’, but arguably, far more important? Or will perhaps the right trade deals ensure that these debates become somewhat academic in any case? One thing is clear – at the time of writing, despite progress on some key non-trade issues, we are still some distance away from knowing what the shape of any such trade deals might be, as negotiations continue with the other 27 EU member states. However, it does seem more likely now that any changes will be over a period of ‘transition’.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has defined food self-sufficiency as the degree to which a country can meet its food consumption needs from its own domestic production. Very few countries or indeed regions of the world would set out to deliberately pursue a self-sufficiency policy in these terms, given the economic and security benefits that can be gained through trade relations with other countries – and the UK is no different. It would be neither feasible nor desirable to adopt a complete self-sufficiency strategy for UK food production given the complexity of our current agricultural system. Consumers expect diversity in the choice of food available to buy – and equally there are high value products that we will want to export, from meat to specialist cheeses and whisky. However countries can and do endeavour to improve self-sufficiency in a proportionate sense, through capacity and productivity improvements, regardless of their food import/export balance. This is a sensible strategy because it improves negotiation leverage when trade deals are being struck and because it adds economic value and innovation opportunity domestically. Ultimately it will underpin food security – defined by the International Food Policy Research Institute as ‘the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’ (http://www.ifpri.org/topic/food-security).

In attempting to evaluate how UK food production and trade might be affected by our withdrawal from the EU, analysts have already produced numerous scenarios which are helpful in building a picture of possible outcomes (for an example, see Brexit: could a Norway-style model work for Britain). Typically these scenarios will range from a status quo situation, or close to status quo, where existing regulatory and trade frameworks are in effect translocated from the EU and its single market to the UK, to more protectionist or extreme situations where current support systems to agriculture more or less disappear and World Trade Organisation (WTO) default rules and tariffs come into play. The former scenario is generally deemed unlikely and the latter undesirable, so in reality politicians and lobbyists alike will be seeking a framework that combines elements of current regulation, refined or nuanced to better suit the UK’s needs, with the freedom to pursue a range of beneficial trade deals in a liberal economic environment. The fact that this post-EU trade might take place in a climate of heightened competition and challenging tariff structures should not deter the UK’s farmers and food producers. Indeed it will play to their strengths.

The UK agricultural sector has a long history of innovation and the adoption of new technologies which have facilitated significant improvements in the seasonal availability of food, the quality and shelf life of horticultural produce, the safety of food products and the quantitative output from farming activity. The single-minded pursuit of continuous improvement and productivity gains will place growers and farmers in the best possible position to thrive in whatever ‘scenario’ emerges from the Brexit negotiations. This is more than simply a food security policy for agriculture. It will equip the sector with the resilience and flexibility it is going to need to adapt to a changing climate, changing consumer demands, and to the entry of international players in the UK market on the back of new trade deals, for example with the US. An analysis by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) (see Brexit Scenarios: an impact assessment) has already shown that high-performing farms will remain profitable regardless of where on the status quo-to-protectionist spectrum the Brexit negotiations eventually land.

Food security and the government’s approach to it may well provide opportunities, but they are probably evolutionary and some way off. The important actions that businesses can take now to manage change are about maximising productive efficiency, ensuring business resilience through diversity and technical and financial excellence. Above all it is critical to focus on market needs and be ready to adapt as or when those change.

For more information on any of the above, or to discuss how Brexit might affect your organisation, please e-mail us on brexitpolicygroup@adas.co.uk.

UK Food Production in a post-Brexit World

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