Committee says 30% of food consumed in UK comes from EU

Committee says 30% of food consumed in UK comes from EU

UK consumers potentially face higher food costs after Brexit should trade barriers be erected in any deal with the European Union, a parliamentary committee has warned.

The House of Lords' EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee said in a report today (10 May)  30% of food consumed in the UK comes from the EU and prices could rise if the current scenario of no tariffs or customs barriers changes.  

The Committee's report – 'Brexit: food prices and availability' – noted that ''whilst the UK government hopes to negotiate a trade agreement to allow tariff-free and 'frictionless' imports of food to continue, this is by no means a guaranteed outcome''.

Ian Wright, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, also joined in the debate by saying any increase in ''friction'' at UK borders could ''prove costly'' for the entire supply chain.

And further, the Committee said that ''even in the 'best-case scenario', with no tariffs and few customs barriers, international rules would oblige the UK to conduct more customs and borders checks than is currently the case''.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the increase in tariffs could lead to higher food prices, while the additional customs workload could ''choke'' UK ports and airports, and disrupt deliveries, the report said.  

The Committee also found  EU food imports could not easily be replaced by either producing more in the UK or importing more from non-EU countries. UK self-sufficiency has been declining for the past 30 years, and could not quickly be reversed.

On top of the food imported from the EU, another 11% comes from countries outside the trading bloc under EU trade agreements, which amount to 40 such pacts spread across 56 different countries, the Committee said.

''The Committee is calling on the Government to urgently seek agreement with these countries that the status quo can be maintained during the transition period, as well as undertaking the negotiations that will need to happen to maintain this important aspect of the UK's food supply post-December 2020.'' 

The report also pointed out UK food minister George Eustice had downplayed the scale of post-Brexit trade deals when he appeared before the Committee. 

Lord Teverson, chairman of the Committee, said: "Throughout our inquiry there was a striking contrast between Government confidence and industry concerns. The minister may not be worried about the potential for Brexit to impact on the price and availability of food, but the representatives of the food and farming industry, importers, port authorities and consumer organisations were vocal in their concerns.

''We are calling on the Government to set out what checks they do intend to carry out on food imports, to allow the food industry and customs authorities time to prepare and to reassure consumers that standards will be upheld.''

Teverson added: ''And we would urge the Government to consider the impact that Brexit may have on food inequality in the UK: will we have a situation where high quality, local produce is available for those who can afford it, with cheaper food imported for those on lower incomes?

''The UK needs a comprehensive food policy, to tackle these complex issues, and we urge the Government to produce one with some urgency."

Meanwhile, Wright at the FDF noted the importance of securing a trade deal in the interests of the ''flourishing'' UK food and drinks industry.

''As the report confirms, any increased friction at borders will prove costly for the entire supply chain and cause short-term disruption for businesses, consumers and shoppers. The Committee's call for a comprehensive food-security policy is encouraging, but as correctly suggested, there is still a serious gap between Government confidence and industry concerns.

"While the proposed transition period provides businesses with some certainty, it is certainly briefer than we believe would be optimum. Time is running short and [the] Government must offer clarity and realism to businesses on future customs arrangements and the Irish border."