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Ed's Brexit round-up

4th May 2018 / By Ed Barker

Readers can be assured that this is most certainly not a period of quiet for the NPA, as any of you who have attended regional meetings will have seen.

Command paper 

EdBarkerNPACentral to the whole NPA’s workload is Defra’s ‘Command Paper’; effectively a cross between a consultation and an aspirational white paper that looks to form the basis of future agricultural policy in the UK, post-Brexit.

It covers a lot: animal health, welfare, CAP payments, environment schemes, trade, research and skills, though we don’t really have too much detail on what is being thought out. This is no bad thing though.

We can give Defra our ideas instead as to how we can meet specific challenges set out by Ministers, such as reducing antibiotic use, the skills gap and emissions whilst improving productivity, our soils, export markets and inward investment. 

We have had great feedback from members so far, which has helped feed into the NPA’s response. 

Many members have also submitted their own response, and we would also encourage anyone to do so. The deadine is May 8, so there is still time... just. 

Why is it so important? Well we understand, that this will be one of, if not the most, responded to consultation in Government history – with the vast majority of responses coming from the public or, more likely, people who have been told to by green NGOs. We have spent a lot of meetings with Defra, MPs and other industry representatives discussing these, and unless we strongly make our voice heard we could have lost the ideas battle before Brexit has even begun.

The NPA’s new vice-Chairman Rob Mutimer made an excellent, positive appeal to MPs across the political spectrum to ensure the UK pig sector is not left behind the rest of the world as a result of Brexit. This is all of our chance to get pigs front and centre of a new UK agricultural policy, with a positive story to tell. We are in a great position to benefit from Brexit, but of course we exposed to the risks.

NPA members are the best advocates for your industry, so the Command Paper is certainly worth engaging with, even if it is the smallest of submissions.

Customs union

Aside the frenetic rush by the NPA team to get over the line with our response to the ‘command paper’ – it has been an interesting week as the Government started to meet the practicalities and difficulties of Brexit. This week it has been on a ‘customs union’ – and whether or not the UK joins ‘the’ EU customs union or ‘a’ customs union, unique to the EU and UK.

In basic terms, a customs union is a group of countries that have decided to make trade easier among them by dropping customs checks within the union and charging the same import duties on the group’s external borders. It requires a lot of co-operation and trust, as each country is effectively responsible for a product that could have an onward destination for anywhere within the union.

Needless to say, they are fairly rare things because of this need to be closely integrated within one another’s imports and exports. Part of this also means that everyone in a customs union charges the same amount of duty for imported products for any country – so all EU countries apply the same import tariff on steel for example.

Why does the UK want to leave it then?

As a member of the EU’s customs union, Britain can only enter into new trade agreements together with the other EU countries, because members have a common trade policy.

The EU worries that the UK leaving the customs union would lead to lengthy customs checks at British and EU ports and to long queues at the Irish border (klaxon alert). Even with a UK/EU free-trade agreement, businesses would have to certify the origin of any product they want to ship from Britain to the EU and vice-versa — a costly process that is needed to guarantee that goods are actually eligible for lower tariffs under the trade agreement, known as ‘rules of origin’ (think of a processed product like a quiche – some of it (ham) may be eligible and some of it (pastry) may not be – I am not joking!).

What is being wrangled over in Government is having ‘a’ customs union with the EU, as opposed to the UK staying in ‘the’ customs union – this means that the scope of the agreement can be limited, Like Turkey and the EU that covers some products but not all. Switzerland meanwhile is in no customs union but is in the Single Market and allows freedom of movement and integrated standards.

This week the Prime Minster this week was pushing a 'hybrid' customs partnership, under which Britain will “mirror the EU’s customs regime at its borders and collect tariffs on behalf of Brussels”.

Brexiteers don’t like it at all, and feel the UK would be in a customs union in all but name. Conversely a number of Tory MPs are ready to vote against the PM to keep Britain in a customs union, and thus why we have a split Cabinet on the issue. With so many spinning plates, it is inevitable some are going to fall off