UK Livestock Auctioneers’ Association executive secretary Christopher Dodd, told a hearing of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee of the damage caused by Britain’s trading relationship with the EU being government by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. This would lead to EU member states imposing tariffs on UK meat exports, with low-tariff imports limited by quotas. “The worst scenario is WTO. Lamb will not have a marketplace in Europe if farmers and British industry are paying a 50% tax on exports,” said Dodds.
Growth plans on hold
British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) chief executive Nick Allen added: “Eighty per cent of exports are with Europe and there is a huge fear of a ‘hard Brexit’, especially if we end up with a WTO situation.”
Dodds claimed the value of draft ewes (older breeding sheep) has already fallen by 50% to 55% because of the lack of security for traders: “There is a genuine appetite for improving [stock], but we need to know in which direction we are going. There is a massive difference in planning for a 50% tariff on lamb or on a guarantee that trade will remain roughly the same as now,” he added.
Labour issues also remain a key concern regarding Brexit talks. Allen said that 60%- 65% of his members’ workers were non-British and that locals were not interested in taking jobs in the slaughterhouses. Allen admitted that his membership was currently exploring the potential of investing in technology to replace workers with machines. But such equipment might not be affordable for all.
Brexit’s unanswered questions
A Peak District sheep farmer, Jane Basset, told the committee she would indeed like to use new technologies, but warned small meat and livestock businesses could struggle to invest wisely. Basset told the committee that she was “working blindly”, but could better plan ahead if there were greater “access to technology, and information on where farmers should be investing”.
Almost a year-and-a-half after the Brexit referendum, the meat sector has many unanswered questions, the committee was told: “We do not know where we are going to end up trade-wise, we do not know how our agricultural policy is going to look like, how much livestock we are going to have,” said Allen. He also told the government he would like to see as many infrastructure improvements as possible that would help UK meat and livestock traders export and import products and inputs seamlessly, before the country steps out of the EU.