In a little over a month, the UK will no longer be in the European Union and there is still no agreement between the government led by Boris Johnson and the European Commission on what will be the trade relations between the free trade zone that remains the Europe of 27 and our neighbor across the Channel. Michel Barnier, former European commissioner responsible for negotiating with Boris Johnson, is to inform the Member States of the Union on Friday of the progress of the discussions. The problem is that they are not making much progress since there is still no agreement on the subject of fishing or the establishment of so-called “fair” competition. Despite joining the European Union on 1er January 1973, the United Kingdom had maintained trade relations with its former colonies including Australia and New Zealand, which continued to sell it a lot of agricultural products. We imagine that he will not fail to revive them when leaving the European Union.
For more than four decades, several European concessions have brought large volumes of New Zealand sheepmeat into Europe with very low customs tariffs, which has greatly reduced sheep farming in France. Thus, by the time the country was ruled by Margaret Thatcher, it was already importing frozen and cheap sheepmeat from New Zealand for British consumption. At the same time, the United Kingdom had benefited from substantial European aid for its large areas of meadows, classified as naturally handicapped areas and devoted to sheep farming. Suddenly, this country could export its fresh sheepmeat to other European countries, and in particular to France, at very competitive prices.
Concerns among wine and cheese exporters
For its part, France has exported large quantities of agricultural products to the United Kingdom for many years. This is especially true for champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône Valley wines. The same was true for cheeses, certain cereals including corn to feed livestock, apples from several regions and vegetables in Brittany in particular. Currently, the Breton company Brittany Ferries, which employs 2,800 people in freight and passenger transport between the region and the British Isles, is in great difficulty in the face of the consequences of the coronavirus with a division by four of passenger transport. In addition, it risks not supporting a significant drop in freight transport. Because by leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom can put in place high customs tariffs on each product imported from the European continent. Including out of revenge, the leaders of this country will not fail to facilitate the imports of agricultural products from countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Brazil to the detriment of European Union exporters.
The alarm cry of the FNSEA, ANIA and agricultural cooperation
As the United Kingdom imported around 5 billion euros of European agricultural products each year, there is therefore a risk that from 2021 onwards there will be stiffer competition between the member countries of the Union in a shrinking internal market. In a joint text published last week the FNSEA, the Agricultural Cooperation and the Association of Food Industries (ANIA), expressed their concerns in these terms:
“For the past two years, operators in the agri-food sector and other players involved, in particular transport, have been preparing to take the shock of the UK’s departure from the European Union. But where we need predictability, we find only uncertainty and lack of clarity regarding the management of exports from the 1 er January 2021 (…) In order to prevent possible distortions of competition, we urge the negotiators to do their utmost to agree on a future trade agreement that supports farms, businesses and jobs, and helps protect trade flows between France and the United Kingdom (….) If the British Secretary of State for International Trade, Mrs. Truss, agrees to import American products with health standards lower than ours, such as chlorine chicken and hormone beef , food products entering the European market will have to comply with all European production standards: neither consumers nor producers could understand that it is otherwise! “, Say these three organizations.
Even British peasants are worried
The fact remains that if British consumers tomorrow agree to eat chlorine-cleaned chickens in American slaughterhouses and beef spiked with growth hormones because they will cost less than higher quality products from member countries of the European Union. , European producers will lose market share on the other side of the Channel. Let us add that the concerns expressed by these three professional organizations are also shared by the NFU, the majority farmers’ union in Great Britain. The weekly “La France Agricole” of November 6 indicates that the NFU “fears that the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union will lead to the signing of all-out free trade agreements, to the detriment of the agricultural sector, of the protection of environment and animal welfare ”across the Channel.
We know that the coronavirus pandemic is reducing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in all the countries of the European Union this year and that all are also counting on a recovery in 2021 without however hoping to return to the level of 2019 at the end of next year. But figures were recently released across the Channel indicating that Britain’s GDP was likely to increase by 10% in 2021 if the country had remained in the European Union. On the other hand, it will only grow by 4.4% in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
David Cameron’s lost bet in June 2016
The fears of British peasants are therefore legitimate. As part of the “no-deal” with Europe, Boris Johnson has discussed a bill on agriculture in both parliamentary chambers. In September, his government signed a free trade agreement with Japan with exemption from tariffs on almost all trade between the two countries. At the same time, talks on a similar agreement are underway with the United States and some fear that it will be concluded before the departure of the White House of a Donald Trump who recently declared that he wanted “full access. to the UK market for US agricultural products ”.
As a reminder, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union was voted in a referendum which gave the yes victory with 51.9% of the vote on June 23, 2016. This referendum was decided by David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister of the time. He counted on the victory of the “no” and this calculated risk turned against him whereas he intended, by this trick, to isolate the members of his party favorable to the exit of the European Union.
Gerard Le Puill