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France could leave the EU if President Macron leaves it “too late” to learn the lessons from Brexit, Michel Barnier warned today.
The comments from the former Brexit negotiator, 70, who is pushing to take a leading role in the French right, come as Marine Le Pen leads in opinion polls ahead of elections next year.
“We could draw some lessons from Brexit for ourselves. It’s now too late for the UK but not for us,” Barnier told a conference on Brexit and the future of the EU in Le Touquet, near Boulogne.
“Let us ask ourselves: why this figure of 52 per cent at the referendum? 52 per cent of citizens voted against Brussels, against the EU, so much so that they actually ended
By John Giles, a Divisional Director of Promar International
While probably ending up with the best deal possible from Brexit, the early days of our new trading arrangements have seen the use of non-tariff barriers slow down UK agri food exports to and imports from the Continent. As several key supply chain players have commented: “tariff free does not always feel like tariff free when you read the fine print”.
Brexit might not be over just yet.
While the UK has continued to allow EU imports to enter the market with minimal checks at the point of entry, the other way around has been a different story. UK exports have been held up at the border points due to a number of reasons, not least the new administration work required. For the UK, we have had 40 years of being able to trade with the EU with no non-tariff barriers (NTBs) in place – all part of the benefit of being in a single European market – but now there is a raft of NTBs to overcome. Well – this is what we voted for, I guess? Out of the EU and out of Europe. Every action has a consequence, as they say.
While it seemed likely that adapting to a new way of trading with the rest of the EU after a period of some 40 years was always going to cause some problems, surely this will be resolved before too long. We are only 3 months into these new arrangements. Of course, none of this was helped by the fact that the final details of what the Brexit arrangement would look like was not agreed until a week or so before the end of the so-called transition period, let alone some of the fine detail. This explains some of the issues incurred to date – but the fact is, we are readjusting to a new way of trading – and this takes time.
It seems that the Brexit experience though has not dampened our enthusiasm for new trade deals in the UK – far from it. At the moment, we can’t seem to get enough of them. This will be a decade for the UK dominated by trade deals and their ramifications. Future UK priorities will include the development of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with the US (population of 331 million) and Oceania countries (30 million), but we must recognise that these sorts of trade deals are very much a “two-way street”.
The UK market, for many who are both inside and outside of Europe, is still a very attractive one. US, NZ and Australian farmers and exporters will no doubt be eyeing up the opportunities for products such as top fruit, grapes, citrus, berries, nuts and wine. Other trade deals with the likes of Canada (38 million), Mexico (128 million) and Japan (126 million) are, in effect, almost “roll over” agreements based on what we had when still in the EU.
The UK is also keen to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans – Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). This is an FTA between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. There are some potentially very interesting markets amongst these for UK exporters, but NZ and Australia will be influential over the terms in which we might be allowed to participate.
Ironically, when the rest of the world seems to be getting together into bigger and more consolidated trade blocs, we have chosen to take a step back from one of the biggest – the EU – to then join up with others of a smaller nature on a one by one basis. India and China maybe still remain the biggest prizes of all – but also maybe the most challenging.
Gaining tariff access to new markets is one thing; building a market presence is another thing altogether. Unless you are in the highly fortunate position of being in the right place at the right time (this doesn’t happen that often) building exports takes just four things – time, effort, expertise and investment. Only the best prepared, best informed and those with a well-developed export plan will eventually be successful.
So – 100 days after Brexit:
- has there been trade disruption at the UK/EU borders? Yes, but logically, this was to be expected
- have exports and imports slowed down? Yes – to some extent, in some cases there have been large falls, but if this is due to Brexit or the ongoing issues with COVID, it is not always easy to say
- has East European farm and packhouse labor left the UK in droves? No
- has the currency collapsed against the €? No
- have supply chains been disrupted? Yes, in some cases
- are UK consumers still more worried maybe about COVID than Brexit? We suspect yes – but the vaccination program has been rolled out very effectively and now over 32 million have been vaccinated with at least one dose and almost 6 million people have had both doses
Of course, in relative terms, it’s all still early days of “life after Brexit”.
UK consumers are still also concerned about the potential for rising food prices, but don’t always readily seem to make the connection between this and the increased transaction costs that might be incurred due to the knock-on impacts of Brexit per se. What is clear though is that consumers in the UK are increasingly interested in the provenance of their food, the sustainability of how it has been produced – but value for money is still seen as a big driver of purchase. Most industry commentators are suggesting we still need to do more to switch the focus from price to the quality of our food.
In the horticultural sector, the UK has traditionally been a large-scale net importer with significant volumes of produce sourced from the EU, Central America, Turkey, Egypt, Chile and South Africa. Most of these and others have already secured their market access to the UK post-Brexit. It is hard to see a situation turned around into one where we start large-scale exports of fresh produce to international markets. There could be niche opportunities for high-quality produce to markets where UK-based retailers are active. Parts of the Gulf and SE Asia might foot the bill here.
It will often come down to the resolve and appetite of UK producers, packers and exporters to do business in what can be demanding international markets up and be up against the “best of the rest”. This will include the leading players from the likes of the US, the Oceania countries, South Africa, Chile and Peru – to name a few.
Yet the recent announcement by the likes of Marks & Spencer (the leading high-end retailer in the UK) to open online shopping activity in 46 countries around the world could be the start of the niche opportunity for horticultural producers and UK exporters that we have been waiting for. So – welcome to the decade of trade deals, but let’s always remember, securing trade access is one thing; market presence is another thing altogether.
They always say Rome wasn’t built in a day – but neither has the full impact of Brexit been seen in the UK after 100 – yet.
John is a Divisional Director of Promar International, the value chain consulting arm of Genus plc. He has worked on fresh produce assignments in some 60 countries around the world. He is also the current chair of the annual City Food Lecture held in London. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
A furious Brexit row erupted on BBC Question Time last night as Sir Bernard Jenkin took aim at the EU for acting “unreasonably”. He also snapped at Question Time host Fiona Bruce who tried to cut him off during his responses. Sir Bernard repeatedly responded: “Let me just finish the point!”
The row came during debate over violence in Northern Ireland, which has been partially blamed on the Northern Ireland Protocol to manage trade post-Brexit.
Ms Bruce told Sir Bernard: “You played a key role in Brexit.
“You complained in 2018 that the Northern Ireland border had been allowed to hijack the whole negotiation.
“But do you think a bit more attention should have been paid to it now?”
The Conservative MP fired back: “Well, actually, the border I referred to was between north and south.”
When Ms Bruce immediately interrupted him, Sir Bernard responded: “Let me just finish the point!”
He continued: “We were proposing alternative means of dealing with that border.
“Nevertheless, the Republic of Ireland and the EU Commission were absolutely obsessed with this border and we now see they should have given equal concern to the other border they’ve created down the Irish Sea.”
Later, he said that “the European Union used it as a bargaining tool” and insisted it was not Brexit that had caused the border issue.
When Ms Bruce again interrupted him, Sir Bernard responded: “Can I just make the point!
“There is a grievance about the border down the Irish Sea.
“Do you know there are five times more checks on the trade crossing between GB and Northern Ireland than there is in all the trade crossings into the European Union.”
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He continued: “The degree of compliance required is so intense.
“Some of the rules the EU is insisting we impose include washing the soil off tractors being exported, or banning the sale of shellfish.
“The shellfish was fine to export before we left the EU and now it’s suddenly dangerous!
“We should make the protocol more reasonable.”
In Brussels, Lord David Frost met with his EU counterpart Vice President Šefčovič last night for crunch talks on the implementation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
The UK left the European Commission outraged last month when it unilaterally delayed the introduction of some customs checks on goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Top European Union and British officials failed to get a breakthrough at talks on Northern Ireland trade rules and said Friday that contact would continue over the coming weeks.
The dinner meeting late Thursday between European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic and U.K. Brexit minister David Frost took place a month after the EU started legal action against its former member country, arguing that the U.K. had not respected the conditions of the Brexit agreement and violated international law.
A British statement said that “a number of difficult issues remained and it was important to continue to discuss them.”
Frost said that “there should be intensified contacts at all levels in the coming weeks.”
The two sides are trying to find common ground on trade rules in Northern Ireland, where Britain’s exit from the EU has unsettled a delicate political balance.
Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. but remained part of the EU’s single market for goods after Brexit to avoid checks at the territory’s border with EU member Ireland. An open Irish border helped underpin the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence, allowing people in Northern Ireland to feel at home in both Ireland and the U.K.
Unionists say the arrangement the British government and the EU worked out has amounted to the creation of a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
The EU and U.K. agreed on the post-Brexit trade deal on Christmas Eve but its application is still provisional until the EU’s legislature approves it, theoretically by the end of the month.
Some EU legislators are threatening to hold back the parliamentary approval vote until they receive further assurances from London on the issues Frost and Sefcovic were discussing.
European Union Parliament committees overwhelmingly backed the trade deal Thursday.
In March, London decided to unilaterally extend a grace period until October on checks for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, a decision that led the EU to issue a formal notice to its former member. The U.K was given one month to respond.