Relief and questions after trade deal agreed between UK and EU

Relief and questions after trade deal agreed between UK and EU

The Government has announced that after protracted negotiations a historic post-Brexit trade deal has been agreed between the EU and the UK.

The deal, already dubbed the ‘Christmas Eve Agreement’, still has to be fully ratified by EU member states and in the UK Parliament over the coming weeks, but that is now seen as a formality.

Negotiating teams talked throughout Wednesday night and for much of Christmas Eve to finalise the details, and UK cabinet ministers took part in a conference call with the PM late on Wednesday evening to discuss the proposed post-Brexit deal. This followed talks between Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen through the day on Wednesday.

One key issue holding back agreement has been fishing rights, with other issues such as freedom for the UK Government to support home industry and the mechanics of how a deal is enforced being the most difficult and highly charged negotiating positions. It is understood that the European Court will have no part to play in enforcement and a different ‘international’ formula is to be implemented to resolve any disputes.

The UK left the EU at the end of January 2020, but until 31st December remains under its trading rules, creating great anxiety for meat and food businesses about what will happen as the end of year deadline approaches. Now the two sides have just one week left to get the new deal formally approved and ratified in Brussels and in London.

Industry reaction

With Christmas closedown meaning many are on holiday, obtaining industry reaction has been more difficult than usual, but one industry observer told Meat Management: “As with all these things the Devil is in the detail and a document of around two thousand pages will take some reading. Many questions remain. However, I am sure that there is a huge sigh of relief around Whitehall and within the major trade bodies. As the dust settles more information directly affecting the UK meat industry will be revealed. It is however clear that we have made concessions on fishing to allow a longer period for implementing or phasing change.”

Norman Bagley, head of policy at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) said: “After such a long period of negativity and understandable concerns across all of industry, we welcome the news that the trade deal with the EU has now been reached. The wrangling of the last weeks and months is now over and the burden of tariffs removed. So now, as we enter 2021, meat and poultry businesses can plan with clarity as regards the UK’s future relationship with the close market of the EU.

“The PM anticipates that the UK will now prosper. We agree with him. Let’s get behind the deal and personally, I fully expect our high quality meat to be sold, consumed and enjoyed across the globe.”

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), added: “We have been given very scant information surrounding Third Country Listing Status by the Government, with the official communication stating only that the UK has ‘successfully applied for authorisation’. This absence of crucial information from both the European Commission and from our own Government is highly frustrating and ties one hand behind our back when it comes to being able to prepare for Brexit.

“We sincerely hope that both sides will be able to work together in a genuine new and constructive partnership as we face the many shared and continuing challenges ahead.”

“What’s missing is any detail surrounding what, if any, additional guarantees will apply to the UK (for example the need for TB or Trichinella testing) that will form part of the Export Health Certificates needed to export products of animal origin to the EU after 31st December. All we’ve been told is that this will be confirmed on the 28th December.     

“Without this detail our members are now going to lose the last few precious preparation days they have left, which they could have used to get ready for the new export system. Instead the industry must simply hope that nothing nasty is included in the UK’s final Health Status Listing. And if, for example, it transpires that standstill is needed for Sheep, this would mean that all trade in sheep meat with the EU would instantly stop on 1st January.

“Simply getting Third Country Listing Status is just the first part. It’s the missing details that will make the difference between trade or no trade with the EU in January.”

Andrew Kuyk CBE, director general of the Provision Trade Federation (PTF), commented: “All of us in the food industry will surely welcome the news that we will not have to face tariffs trading with our largest and nearest customers and suppliers. But we are also under no illusions as to the degree of change which being outside the EU will bring to what were previously frictionless arrangements in terms of the movement of goods and people into and out of the country, including trade with Northern Ireland. 

“We sincerely hope that both sides will be able to work together in a genuine new and constructive partnership as we face the many shared and continuing challenges ahead, not least in respect of Covid recovery and building a secure and sustainable future food system for all.”

New arrangements

With a trade deal now being agreed, subject to ratification, the UK leaves the single market at the end of December and the new agreed trading arrangements will then apply. The lateness of the deal and the uncertainty about how to prepare for it, or until now the possibility of no deal, has created much industry uncertainty for many months, and the last minute arrangements, subject to full ratification, still means there is likely to be some disruption.

The trade deal will, crucially, allow businesses more scope to invest with confidence both in the UK and Europe. With the damaging effects of Covid-19 still ongoing, the potential for a ‘no deal’ economic downturn was a significant worry for business leaders and the Treasury. However, the UK Government will now be hoping that this signals an opportunity for growth and will create a renewed focus on exports. Manufacturers based in the UK can anticipate strong ongoing trade with Europe and in general the UK can import items from the EU and export to member states without WTO tariffs.

Meat Management will report additional meat trade reaction in early January.

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