We need to create ‘Brand Britain’ to make agriculture flourish after Brexit

We need to create ‘Brand Britain’ to make agriculture flourish after Brexit

When the British public voted to leave the EU in 2016, they voted to take back control of money, laws and regulations.

Farming is a prime example. People felt they had lost control to a distant and bureaucratic EU, subject to blanket policies set in Brussels. Now, it’s down to us.

As a rural MP and former dairy farmer, I know that CAP payments are crucial to farmers’ livelihoods. They make up around a third of farm incomes and provide vital support to the rural economy.

It’s that financial guarantee to our farmers that convinced me to vote ‘remain’ in the referendum. Whilst farmers are relieved to know the Government will continue to support them until 2024, the future is uncertain beyond that point.

We have a great farming industry with high-quality products. But we need to set the right conditions for this great British industry to thrive post-Brexit. As Chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee, I am determined to see that happen as part of the new ‘Brand Britain’.

It is with this in mind, that my committee has today published our report into “Brexit: Trade in Food”. We need an urgent vision for food and farming post-Brexit.

We’re calling on the Government to engage more closely with industry and to provide the food and farming sector with greater clarity.

An outward looking, global Britain is key to seeing our agricultural sector flourish in the long-term. That means farming-focused Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) – not just with Europe, but with the rest of the world. But it also means taking difficult decisions on things like tariffs and quotas.

Farmers are right to fret over WTO rules. Tariffs, under this system, are far higher for agricultural goods and disproportionately affect farmers. That’s why, in our report, we suggest the Government gives careful consideration to the impact on the UK’s agricultural industry when establishing its own tariffs at the WTO.

While imposing high tariffs on food imports could raise the cost for consumers, removing tariffs altogether would devastate the UK’s agricultural industry. We need healthy competition to drive productivity, not a unilateral removal of tariffs. Undercutting UK farmers would render the UK dependent on imported food – and quite simply: you pay for what you get when it comes to food safety and animal welfare standards.

The products our farms bring to market are some of the highest quality in the world. I want to hear more about this, not less. We must build a Brand Britain post-Brexit.

The Prime Minister has had recent success in China making sure that British beef is back on the menu. Fed up of pork, a staple for their parents’ generation, the younger and better off Chinese are quickly turning to beef. It’s vital our producers can adapt and capitalise. And that our Government are squarely behind them, banging the drum for high-quality British beef.

And yet throughout all of this we should not forget that the EU is our closest market. The EU accounts for 60% of our agricultural exports and 70% of our imports. It’s in both our interests to keep trade tariff-free. You only have to look at the cross-border nature of the food processing industry in Northern Ireland, to see the difficulty trade barriers would pose. It may not be the answer for every sector, but regulatory agreement would work for the agriculture.

There are still numerous improvements we can make – and which we are now free to do. We must ensure, for instance, that farming becomes more profitable. We can design a tailored support system that encourages greater productivity. We can also strengthen further our animal welfare standards, which are already higher than many EU countries.

As our report highlights, our food and farming industry generates over £110 billion a year and employs one in eight people in the UK. That’s a record we should protect and be proud of. However, we can do even better if we listen to industry and seize the opportunity that Brexit presents.

Our food and drink sector can put Britain firmly on the map. Brand Britain should be a national advertisement to the world – bringing more tourists to these shores. Not just from Europe, but from America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Africa, the Far East and South America.

People flock from around the world to see Devon, the Brecon Beacons and the Scottish Highlands. Let’s not forget that farmers remain the most important custodians of our countryside. Our green and pleasant land would not be the muse of so much literature without them.

Some free market thinkers believe Britain’s departure from the CAP is a golden opportunity to drastically scale back — and even end — agricultural support altogether.

This would be a mistake. We need to start re-making the case for targeted investment in our farmers and the rural economy. Farm support payments are essential in delivering on climate change targets, on providing jobs, as well as ensuring protection for our precious wildlife and countryside.

But most of all, they allow our farmers to provide high-quality products which are the envy of the world. “Brexit: Trade in Food” is about creating Brand Britain. British agriculture should be front and centre of the negotiations, not left to from feed the crumbs under the table.