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President's Blog - 18 October 2017

I recently had the honour of travelling to Washington D.C. as part of the Copa Cogeca Delegation from the EU to the biennial conference with our North American counterparts.

Outside of the main conference and subsequent duties I was able to attend two meetings which I found to be particularly enlightening.

The first was facilitated by the UK ambassador in Washington and was with the US Secretary of State for Agriculture Sonny Perdue. A popular figure amongst the farmers and ranchers in America, Mr Perdue is a former vet and a twice serving Senator, and has a direct line to the President on matters of agriculture.

Mr. Perdue had a real focus on what the US would expect in a trade agreement and felt that trade should be open and free with benefits to both sides. He was very unhappy on the science that Europe was using to keep out their produce. The science that the US uses is accepted the world over and Europe is selective on the science it is accepting.

There had been beef producers in the US producing to meet the European market and it was still not getting into EU. We pushed for the US to accept UK lamb as there was a gap in the market. His response: “what are you giving that we want?”

I made it clear that we would expect to be producing to EU standards in order to access that market as it was our main one and established. There would then be a reluctance from Europe to deal with us if we were bringing in produce from elsewhere in the world that was not of an accepted EU standard.

My second meeting of note was with Daniella Taveau, a consultant on international trade. Ms Taveau has worked on some of America’s biggest trade partnerships as well as being US representative at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). These were all part of her previous role in the US Environment Protection Agency as a senior trade negotiator. Currently she works as a regulatory strategies expert on global development.

She shared her views on Brexit from a trade perspective, claiming that UK agriculture is vulnerable to trade-offs against other sectors. Pre-Brexit there was a strong drive to get things done, but things have changed in agriculture within the EU and have moved in a different direction to US.

There is a view within the US agencies that the UK should give market access post Brexit. As far as they see it the EU is an anathema and they would like the UK to peel off separately and trade with them.

Bandwidth is also a problem with the EU (too many different players having their say on everything). The US finds working with this bandwidth as a hassle for the potential outcomes of a negotiation. US administration don’t like multi-lateral trade deals, they prefer bilateral.

They see the UK as having no negotiators and gave an example of Liam Fox stating UK could do trade deals in a short time, that is naive to people that do trade deals. The US understand that the UK will have to adopt EU regulations and adjust/adapt them later but will always push the UK to get what they want.

There is a definite dislike of the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) as it is only recognised by the EU, it hampers international trade, and in their mind, this is unacceptable. Should the UK peel away from the EU and the EU standards we will be able to do other deals with other nations in the world.

Coming out of these two meetings my overall impression of what is going on at home with Brexit has intensified and I am more aware than ever that the lobbying we do as a union has to be constant and has to be affective.

UK agriculture needs to seek out our allies and get them to carry some of the work load with politicians. Unions need to provide solutions and hammer them home on a daily basis.

Our job should be getting a comprehensive strategy to give to politicians. We need a US strategy, a UK strategy and an EU strategy going forward.

On top of all this we need to have a media strategy as politicians respond to the “Court of public opinion”.

Author: Andrew McCornick

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