As a result of our changed relationship with the EU, the agricultural, fishing and horticulture sectors are facing significant changes that necessitate strategic adaptation, improved communication and coordination across government and a shift towards the digitalisation of trade. By taking steps now the UK has the opportunity being a global test bed for agricultural innovation.
This summary, informed by our oral evidence session as part of our ongoing inquiry into the Trade and Cooperation, looks at key areas of change, highlighting the challenges and opportunities they present, while underscoring the need for coordinated action. Our witnesses included representatives from the National Farmers Union, Agricultural Industries Confederation, National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Horticultural Trades Association.
Coordinated efforts across government departments, including FCDO, DEFRA, and DBT, are essential to streamline responses with a greater input from industry.
The establishment of a Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement is crucial to facilitate trade between Great Britain and the European Union. A potential resolution could involve the creation of an SPS zone encompassing the UK, EU, and EFTA member states.
Trade and Standards: Strategic Alignment for Negotiations
As the UK redefines its role as a Global Trading Britain, the absence of core trade standards and a clear vision in negotiations for free trade agreements have impacted agricultural and fishing industries. The UK's negotiation strengths, particularly access to our market, must be strategically leveraged. The reported dismissal of impact assessments underscores the need for comprehensive evaluation of any future trade deals.
Equivalence with the EU on organics is expiring at the end of this year, both sides need clear path forward to offer businesses stability and continued access to trade.
Historically, the UK played a prominent role in leading the approval of new products. However, the process of obtaining approvals for new products in the UK has become less competitive, with costs comparable to those in the EU. Many businesses are opting to seek approvals in the EU due to its larger market size. The UK should recognise dossiers that have been compiled for EU approvals to reduce the burden on businesses and in general should speed up processes.
Digital Transformation: Streamlining Processes for efficiency
The transition to digital customs controls offers substantial cost and times savings. A reliance on outdated HMRC data hinders progress and the industry's offer of forward-looking data should be taken up by Government to enhance import/export accuracy and help boost trade. Digitising European Health Certificates and CITES will streamline operations and support British exporters.
The Government should also utilise the new data it has collected since the introduction of border check in January 2021 to better manage custom and trade flows.
A database of divergence will help facilitate trade (Canada has been cited as a country that does this effectively). It would also be helpful to establish an official open register of issues to promote learning and identify ongoing problems.
Labour and Mobility: Supporting Workforce Shortages and Cultural Exchanges
The current seasonal worker system has led to increased difficulties and costs. The current and former Home Secretary, Priti Patel and Suella Braverman, have not engaged with the industry on this matter.
Formerly, workers within and beyond 12 miles of UK waters used a transit visa; now, those within 12 miles require a skilled worker visa.
The UK and the EU should explore the idea of migration partnership to address job shortages and promote cultural exchanges among younger generations. Reverting to European seasonal workers might alleviate concerns about asylum claims.
Fishing: Becoming an Independent Coastal State
The UK needs to reconsider its approach to fisheries management and assert its status as an independent coastal state. There is a disparity in catch allowances between the UK and EU waters, with the EU having greater access to UK waters. Regaining control of territorial waters up to 12 miles should be accompanied by reciprocal benefits. The value of UK waters is higher for EU fleets than vice versa. UK should revisit negotiations with Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands which have stalled.
Despite having cleaner waters, the UK's bivalve mollusc trade has suffered due to its reclassification as external waters, unlike certain EU areas where molluscs thrive.
The UK's fishing industry needs swifter governmental and parliamentary responses. Currently, negotiations occur annually, and implementing changes through SIs regularly take six months after agreement. This puts UK fisheries at a disadvantage, as EU boats can access resources more promptly.