UK food industry organisations in the UK today (27 March) urged the Government to negotiate “a smooth and orderly Brexit”, including “tariff-free trade” in the medium term.

The British Retail Consortium, the National Farmers Union of England and Wales and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) issued a joint statement to ministers highlighting what they said should be “core objectives and priorities for UK trade policy”.

The joint statement to the UK government includes a call for “transitional arrangements” once the UK leaves the EU that “maintain frictionless trade in goods between the UK and the EU, avoiding costly and disruptive customs checks, processes and procedures”.

However, the organisations said “in the medium term” they want to see “an ambitious bilateral free trade agreement with the EU that delivers two-way tariff-free trade”.

The group’s recommendations come two days before UK Prime Minister Theresa May formally invokes the Article 50 process triggering the country’s formal talks with the EU on Brexit.

In addition, the groups urged negotiators to secure the benefits for UK traders of existing EU preferential trade arrangements, including on agricultural imports.

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“As the process of leaving the EU develops, the food supply chain will work together to ensure that our consumers continue to enjoy great quality, choice and value,” the statement said. “The UK food supply chain employs 3.9m people from farming through manufacturing to retail and food service and generates GBP108bn in value.”

“Much of the food supply chain is domestically-based, and our organisations are committed to domestic production that is competitive and profitable and fully meets the demands of British consumers,” the statement said. “Nevertheless, we cannot operate in isolation. Our farmers need imported feed and inputs and they need access to other markets for their products, especially where demand for these in the UK is insufficient. Our food and drink manufacturers rely on exports to grow their businesses and imports to complement their use of domestically produced ingredients and raw materials. Our retailers need access to a full range of goods all year round to balance seasonality and meet consumer demand.”

The organisations said the existing regulatory framework governing international trade as part of the EU “matters to all of us, both in strengthening and supporting UK producers in domestic and foreign markets, and in affording UK consumers and the agri-food and drink industry the benefits of freer trade with overseas partners”.

The UK’s Road Haulage Association warned last month the UK’s food supply could be “seriously damaged” unless robust customs controls were negotiated with the EU ahead of Brexit.