Vice President's Blog - 30 August 2019

The dial has now shifted the possibility of the UK exiting the EU without a deal from ‘possible’ to ‘probable’ writes Vice President Martin Kennedy.

That gives greater focus to our efforts to prepare and proof our industry from the impacts of no deal.

Whilst it always has been, and remains, the position of NFU Scotland that the UK must secure a favourable deal on the terms of exit with the EU, it is also our role to support our industry through any change in the operating environment.

That is why today, the President will write to every NFU Scotland member setting out the steps they can take now – if they haven’t already begun the process - to prepare their businesses for a probable no deal exit.

Many might think that their businesses won’t be impacted by a no deal, but the reality is that there will be implications for all of us. Some will be direct and immediate, and others more indirect and emerging through time – but the one certainty is that these will be felt by all of us involved in the agri-food chain.

There will be limits to what can be done to support the most exposed sectors, but we will still push at every door to make sure those who can help, will help.

There are a few things that would make a big difference if applied right across the board in the UK.

First, the UK Government’s proposed import tariff schedule that would be enacted in the event of a no deal desperately requires revision. It would expose some produce (specifically cereals, oilseeds, potatoes, eggs and horticultural produce) to a tariff going into the EU but would allow that same product to come into the UK with no tariff. This is farcical.

To apply asymmetrical tariffs on any products between us and the EU is to completely misunderstand the nature of food security in the UK and fails to recognise that trade is vital to both the UK and the EU. And where will this leave us in attempting to negotiate pioneering trade deals with the EU and other international partners into the long term?

This year’s harvest has had a sticky start but most that you speak to are now talking about good quality and very high yields. This would be fantastic if the Brexit issue wasn’t hanging over us but the fact that our exports will face very high tariffs going into the EU in the event of a no deal is already having a detrimental effect on price.

Other product such as eggs and vegetables face the same uncertainty. Therefore it’s imperative that the tariff schedule that was set to ensure a cheap food policy is revisited.

One thing that can be done regardless of Brexit is for our own governments to prioritise using our own products when it comes to public procurement.

All our politicians like to talk about how good our agricultural industry is in comparison to others across the world in terms of standards and environmental benefits, but we don’t see near enough in the way of Scottish or British products being prioritised foe use in schools, hospitals and other public services.

This would really help. Yes, it may add one or two pence to a meal – but I would challenge governments and public procurement buyers what the real cost is of bringing products in from other parts of the world? These products certainly don’t meet our standards – not to mention the impact on climate change with food miles taken into consideration.

It’s only a couple of years since the kids in our schools were getting their chicken from Thailand. Things are improving, but it’s still not Scottish chicken. Tayside contracts worked with us last year to get Scottish lamb back on the school menu after a very successful pilot in Perth and Kinross, which resulted in lamb now being on the menu throughout the Tayside area. A massive thanks must go to this local authority for being so enthusiastic about promoting good local food. We must build on this enthusiasm across all local authorities in Scotland.

It’s now down to governments to support this for three very good reasons.

  1. To provide high quality food products to our own citizens
  2. With climate change at the top of the agenda we should be minimising our carbon footprint by sourcing locally
  3. It’s essential to maintain an iconic sustainable industry that takes such good care of our environment.

Brexit has no bearing on this. This is 100% within the gift of both Holyrood and Westminster, but it might just be the catalyst for governments to work with local authorities to do the right thing when it comes to feeding those who use our public services.

Author: Martin Kennedy

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About The Author

Martin Kennedy

Martin is a tenant farmer in Aberfeldy, Highland Perthshire and farms with his wife Jane and three daughters. They have 600 ewes and 60 cows on the farm rising from 800ft to 2,500ft. Martin served two years as Highland Perthshire Branch chair, before representing East Central region on the LFA committee in 2009. Martin went on to be Vice-Chair before chairing the committee for three years. He was elected Vice-President in 2017 and elected as President in 2021.

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