The food industry is not prepared for a no deal Brexit and meat production will be hit the hardest, warned Chief Strategy Officer of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) Tim Hind when he addressed 200 farmers and business experts in Lincolnshire.
Meanwhile, environment secretary Michael Gove conceded that the no deal storm is not a forecast that can be ignored or shrugged away: “small businesses and small livestock farmers would inescapably be the worst hit.”
A tariff regime which will determine the impact of food imports on local production will be announced in the coming days.
Hind, who addressed agriculture leaders at the 2019 annual Farm Business Update, explained that with a month to go and a no deal scenario looking most likely, export tariffs will bring about the biggest impact.
“Following a no-deal there may be a temporary uplift in prices for some growers and opportunities to displace imports in some sectors. But the main implications are broadly negative and the food industry as a whole is not well prepared.
“There is likely to be a degree of disruption from trade friction, but tariffs may bring about the biggest impact, particularly for farms and growers that are involved in exporting. The meat sector will be particularly vulnerable, with, for example, export tariffs of 40-50% expected for sheep meat which would inevitably see lower lamb prices to producers.”
The conference, hosted by Duncan & Toplis and Brown & Co, heard multiple calls for farmers to prepare for the worst. “It’s really important that farmers don’t sleepwalk into a situation that could seriously affect them,” Hind added.
Union leaders have gone so far as to suggest the government should pay sheep farmers to prevent the mass slaughter of lambs if no deal is agreed. National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said “it’s unacceptable for government to leave British businesses having this much to gamble.”
Although nothing has been confirmed, advocate for the PM’s proposed deal Gove told a conference of the National Farmers’ Union this week that the government would apply tariffs to food imports even in the event of a no deal Brexit to protect farmers.
White meat like chicken from countries including Thailand and Brazil could continue with zero tariffs as overwhelming demand outstrips domestic supply in the UK. The vulnerability lies with meats like lamb. High tariffs must be implemented, or Lincolnshire farmers will be overwhelmed by cheap cuts flooding the market from countries like New Zealand.
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