Commission door on negotiations remains firmly closed

The EU Commission’s door on negotiations with the UK appears firmly and frustratingly closed according to NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy who writes:

“Having just taken part in my first Copa-Cogeca meeting where we had the opportunity to speak to officials from the European Commission, I was left in absolutely no doubt that the whole Brexit saga is far from over.

“As a reminder, Copa is the body that represents all the European farming unions and Cogeca is the body that represents European farming cooperatives.

“Although the UK has left the EU, all the UK unions felt it important that we kept our place at the Copa-Cogeca table, and we still have the opportunity to use that platform to feed in our concerns on many topical issues facing agriculture right across Europe.

“What was blatantly obvious, given the response from the commission to questions, was Brexit was a UK decision therefore the UK will have to face the consequences for any friction in trade or checks.

“The tone of the conversation was incredible, despite calls for discussion and dialogue to try and resolve some of the serious issues we are facing right now.  That included attempts to discuss economically important trade matters for Scotland such as seed potato exports and live animal trade between ourselves and Northern Ireland.  In short, the door was firmly closed in our face.

“Even calls from other EU farming Unions who are deeply concerned about their exports to the UK after January 2022 made absolutely no difference.

“I have to say the tone left me in no doubt that the European Commission wants us to feel pain from leaving the EU. I also have no doubt that this is to show other member states that leaving the EU is a bad idea, as I’m sure it is concerned about others who may consider leaving the EU.

“One comment that I found particular frustrating was its assertion that the UK had already diverged from some of the standards in the EU.

“This is not the case.  This is political.  Now we are out of the EU it seems some people want to ensure we suffer from our decision to leave.

“It also said that, due to the lack of dynamic alignment, friction free trade could not be achieved so we will have simply to accept the consequences.

“If we had dynamic alignment with the EU then there would be no point in Brexit at all because if there was a rule or legal change in the EU, we would have to follow suit, so I can understand the UK’s stance on this.

“However, the trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) that’s in place already allows trade to happen provided there isn’t a significant change in production standards, i.e., equivalence is recognised, but again it’s politics that’s stopping this trade from continuing.

“It’s ironic really.  The very reason we have had such a good trade relationship with the EU on products such as seed potatoes is because of our exceptionally high health status, so if anyone is diverging from standards it’s certainly not us.

“Our focus now must be to ensure the UK government does not allow the January 2022 date for physical checks on export health certificates and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) to slip further back.

“Asymmetrical trade is bad enough, but asymmetrical friction means there’s nothing at the minute to bring the commission to the table as products coming in here from the EU continue to do so pretty much friction free.

“Once businesses in Europe begin to realise the delays and costs that we are facing, then and only then will there be lobbying from industry on the EU side to make the Commission see sense.

“The EU are certainly making things difficult for us right now and until they find it equally as challenging there will be no change.  That means we will continue to lobby the UK government to put in place reciprocal trading arrangements on time to ensure the EU sees sense and relaxes some of their political decisions.

“The issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol are equally as fractious.  

“I just hope they see sense quickly and recognise that trade is something that not only benefits countries economically but also helps in terms of good relationships between neighbours.”  

Author: Martin Kennedy

Date Published:

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About The Author

Martin Kennedy

Martin Vice President of NFU Scotland and is a tenant farmer in Highland Perthshire and farms with his wife Jane and three daughters, Jillian, Katrina and Yvonne. They have 600 ewes and 60 cows on the farm rising from 800ft to over 2,500ft. Martin served two years as Highland Perthshire branch chairman, before representing East Central region on the LFA committee in 2009. Martin then went on to be vice chairman then chaired the committee for three years. He has served as Vice President of NFUS for two years and is currently sitting on his third.

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