For the first time in over 40 years, the new Parliament will be able to create UK-specific agriculture and fisheries policies separately from the EU. The final Brexit arrangements, and free trade deals negotiated with Europe and other countries, could therefore have long-lasting implications for British fishing and farming.

While policies need to be determined on subsidy levels and fishing rights, a key concern for fishers and farmers is what trade access the UK will have to the EU, or the access non-EU countries will get to UK consumers. This article examines some of these key issues.

Regulating fishing and farming

Both the fishing industry and farming sector are regulated from Europe; the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) determines what and how much fishermen can catch, while the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) provides direct subsidies to farms and support for rural development. Moreover, Europe is a key tariff-free market and the source of much of what we grow, catch and eat.

Overall the UK has a large trade deficit with the EU in food and drink (UK exports to the EU in 2016 were £12.1 billion and imports £29.8 billion, giving a deficit of £17.7 billion). This overall balance masks differences between sectors.

Fish: the EU is an important trading partner

The UK is a net importer of fish and fish products, and is dependent on imports from the EU and other countries (such as Norway and Iceland) to meet demand. And while the UK has a small trade surplus with the EU in fish, this masks different patterns of trade across species. Much of the fish caught by the UK fleet is directly sold to export because the species landed do not meet UK tastes. Despite high-profile campaigns to get the British consumer to eat a more diverse fish diet, they have remained wedded to the same few popular species.

What about food? Don’t we produce our own here?

UK consumers demand a constant supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, and yet the UK climate means produce is mostly seasonal. We import more food than we export.

In some areas, such as cereals, the UK produces as much as it consumes, whereas it only produces around 55% of the vegetables and 14% of the fruit it consumes.

Around 40% of our vegetables come from the EU. Fruit is different: 36% comes from the EU, but more than 50% from the rest of the world.

The UK runs significant trade deficits with the EU for meat, fruit and vegetables and beverages. However, UK trade policy is likely to continue to encourage food producers to develop high-value products that can be exported. Processing food and drink adds value, compared with the raw product. An example of this is the UK’s biggest food and drink export to the rest of the world – Scotch Whisky.

UK agricultural trade with the EU in 2016 (£ billion)

So what might Brexit mean for the UK’s farms, fishermen and consumers?

Leaving the CAP and CFP will mean new fisheries and agricultural policies for the next Parliament to consider. Trading arrangements outside the Single Market will be a key consideration in making these policies.

It could mean British consumers get their food from different countries, as different trading relationships are developed.

It could also mean that prices change – some argue we could see lower food prices, which would be good news for consumers, but would lead to lower incomes for farmers. Equally, our reliance on food from the EU could see some prices rise if tariff-free trade isn’t on offer. For example, WTO tariffs
on fish products range from 0% to 25%; the EU has high tariffs on agricultural products.

More imports from outside the EU could have a negative impact on the UK market. For example, the UK has always demanded more poultry than it produces, and such non-EU imports could come with different safety and welfare standards. Maintaining geographical protections will be important for food producers who create high-value products, such as Stilton cheese.

Agriculture and fishing will be part of much broader negotiations on trade, with associated risks. For example, there are concerns that the fishing industry could be a makeweight in any free trade deal, and the next Government will have to manage competing priorities, such as calls to restrict access to UK waters against market access demands.

The resulting impact will be felt by UK farmers, fishers and consumers alike.

This article is part of Key Issues 2017 – a series of briefings on the topics that will take centre stage in UK and international politics in the new Parliament.

Image: Agriculture by Matthias Ripp, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

What we eat, not what we catch

Haddock is one of the most popular fish eaten in the UK. However, the UK is heavily reliant on imports of haddock to meet consumer demand. Imports accounted for 59% of the total supply in 2015, around a fifth of which came from the EU and just over half from members of wider EU free-trade agreements (mainly Iceland and Norway). The same is true of other fish, including cod, prawns and tuna.