President's Blog - 30 July 2020

As the nation’s attention comes away from the on going pandemic and focusses back onto Brexit and future trading agreements, NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick gives his view on what Scottish agriculture needs from any and all arrangements

The Department for International Trade have taken on board all the lobbying and agreed to set up a Trade and Agriculture Commission. This is an independent body to give recommendations on how to take account of industries concerns about ensuring a level playing field, should a deal be under consideration.

The ultimate aim is a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) where goods move freely from one country to another with minimum interference and additional costs, such as tariffs, quotas or subsidies. This means each country then focuses on its advantages, basically plays to its strengths and doesn’t try to produce goods it cannot or is less efficient at doing.

We in Scotland for example would focus on whisky production and France would focus on Champagne production. This creates economic efficiency but has implications on the sectors/products that are common to both nations. There would be a loss of production in the country that is less able to compete with any common products and the jobs and processing that lie behind that.

The upside is the produce you are more able to produce is much more competitive and more able to deliver a margin with less environmental impact since you would be working with your natural advantages and not against them producing something that is marginal and higher maintenance both in cost and environmental impact.

The focus becomes exporting what you are good at and importing what is difficult to do domestically. It will also embrace seasonality if you can move any overproduction to a willing buyer and making up any shortfalls from a willing seller.  
It’s not that simple though.  

We need to understand the market and what it wants. Without going into specifics at this stage where is our market or markets?

Obviously from a Scottish perspective it is the rest of the UK, with more than 60 per cent of our output going here. This is the easiest market to access and is the closest with no barriers other than transport, as everything we do is aligned. On a global scale that transport is minimal.

Within that we, as the UK, are net importers of food and if COVID-19 has taught us anything it is that food security is a much bigger priority than ever and we should be moving away from relying on other countries feeding our nation by producing more at our world leading standards and delivering what we are told our consumer wants, sustainably.   

Beyond the UK our biggest market is the EU. This is a market we are still closely aligned to as we have been following the same common rules, regulations and standards, the trade routes are established and known with all the infrastructure in place and working.

From there we have to broaden our horizons and the easiest way to trade is in known markets with known supply chains both for importing and exporting. Logically that would mean we try to replicate the Trade deals we have with other countries through the EU but doing them now as a stand-alone country. There should be no perceived threat to doing this, again this is a common place we have been operating in before and the goods and services we have enjoyed and shared can continue but under a different banner. There we should have no fear of our market getting undercut or distorted provided the agreements are broadly similar to what we have always had. This would also act as a backstop in dealing with volatility in our market should there be crop failure or an animal epidemic in our own or closest market, allowing us to still feed the nation.

Beyond this we then need to be seeking ambitious new opportunities in new markets and work to achieve better without undermining our own domestic market and all it can deliver.

In Summary:

Get our own house in order and do better with our own domestic market. Then work with our nearest and dearest with whom we have had a long relationship with common beliefs and ambition on many matters.

Take the opportunity to rollover the alliances with our mutual contacts with whom we have had a working and trusted relationship.

Then, and only then, be bold enough, once you have a strong base to work from, to explore new and exciting market opportunities anywhere that will not undermine our domestic market but enhance it and the ambitions of our businesses and people.

The measure of a good deal is not what you get it is what you give up to get it.

Author: Andrew McCornick

Date Published:

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About The Author

Andrew McCornick

Andrew, who is married with three sons and a daughter, was born and brought up on a dairy farm in Wigtown. Andrew and wife Janice farm their 230+ ha unit with 160 suckler cows and 600 breeding ewes with a small herd of pedigree Charolais cattle. Andrew's sons farm a nearby tenanted unit which frequently provides replacement breeding stock for Barnbackle. For as long as Andrew can remember, he has been a member of the Union, and got more involved when the consultation for Nithsdale NVZ came out. From there he went onto become vice chairman of the Dumfries branch, and then onto his previous role of Regional Board Chairman for Dumfries and Galloway. He also sat on the LFASS committee. Andrew was elected Vice President in February 2015.

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