The UK minister for environment, food and rural affairs, George Eustice, has expressed confidence British manufacturers will enjoy tariff-free market access to the EU for foodstuffs, including fish products, post-Brexit.
Answering questions in the House of Commons on Thursday (20 July), Eustice said the UK’s position was strengthened by the fact it has a significant trade deficit in food and drink products with the bloc.
Asked about his discussions with west country food manufacturers by Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw – who was under secretary for state at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2003 until 2006 and then a minister in the same department – Eustice said: “We are working closely with trade organisations, such as the Food and Drink Federation, to understand the needs of the industry. We have been clear that we intend to put in place a new partnership with the EU, which will include a comprehensive free trade agreement.”
Questioning the minister further, Bradshaw said: “The minister will know that 80% of west country fish and 30% of our lamb is exported straight to EU markets, free – currently – of tariffs and other barriers. Those food producers will be extremely concerned by the comments today of the international trade secretary, who appears completely relaxed about the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal.
“Does the minister agree with him, or with the Chancellor, who said that this would be a very, very bad thing?”
Eustice said: “The UK has a significant trade deficit in food and drink products with the EU, so the EU needs access to our market as well. We have a significant deficit of around GBP18bn a year, and I believe it is in the EU’s interests, therefore, to secure a free trade agreement too.”
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Talks between the UK and the EU over the terms of Brexit are ongoing. The European Commission has repeatedly said it will not discuss a trade deal between the UK and EU until other outstanding matters have been resolved.