While other global economies continue to grapple with the economic effects of the pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the UK economy also has to cope with the aftermath of Brexit. According to the Centre for European Reform (CER), the British economy is 5.5% smaller than it would have been had the country not opted to exit the European Union. Joint findings by CER and Changing Europe have also revealed that there is a shortfall of around 330,000 workers in the UK labor force.
Farming and agriculture has also been affected. In July 2022, a survey by dairy co-op Arla Foods revealed that 8 in 10 dairy farmers had received ‘very few’ or ‘zero’ applications from workers with relevant experience, while in August 2022, the UK National Farmers’ Union (NFU) estimated that around £60m worth of food had been left to rot on farms due to labor shortages. Recently-signed trade deals, such as the UK-Australia and the UK-New Zealand agreements, have also been seen as controversial by livestock farmers for their potential negative impact on UK produce.
Now, the government says it is ready to listen to feedback from farmers in order to devise a trading framework that will set out some common priorities for UK agriculture during trade negotiations.
The UK Trade & Business Commission is seeking evidence from all corners of British farming on the ‘biggest issues’ facing British farmers in the post-Brexit landscape, including the impacts of new trade deals ‘to ensure opportunities do not come at the cost of existing British industries’.
The evidence will be used to inform government strategy when future trade agreements are being negotiated and will include both short and long-term recommendations. The commission, which played a key role in securing 10,000 new seasonal visas for agricultural workers last year and collaborating with the US over solutions to the Northern Ireland Protocol impasse, will then put the proposals to government and urge ministers to both adopt the proposals and commit to action to help the farming sector.
Evidence has already been gathered by other key industries, including manufacturing, food and drink, finance, science and research. To submit evidence, visit the online portal.
“It is clear that Brexit and its subsequent trade deals have created many more problems for UK businesses than opportunities,” said Hilary Benn MP, co-convener of the UK Trade and Business Commission. “This consultation will enable the day-to-day experience of British firms to influence proposals for a new trading relationship. We are looking not only for answers to immediate problems but also ideas for future trade agreements which can create opportunities for both established and new British export businesses.”
Contacted for comment, the NFU said it is set to submit its own evidence and stressed that the government had already delivered some of its recommendations, such as introducing eight agri-food and drink attachés tasked with reducing trade barriers. An NFU spokesperson said: "It’s vital that government provides a clear programme of policies and investment to help UK farming get ‘match ready’ for this new, tougher trading environment. We also need to see government working with farmers to develop a set of core environmental and animal welfare standards which it can seek to safeguard through forthcoming FTAs, as well as in its general import policy under its current WTO commitments.”