View From Europe

By Colin Ley

HALF-WAY TO NOWHERE! Reaching the mid-way point in the European food and farming year is usually the time when we know as an industry what we’re going to get from the current 12 months and can start planning accordingly. Crops are either basically settled and ready to deliver their reward

for the growers’ hard labour or they’ve gone beyond the stage where a worthwhile recovery of yields and quality is possible. Equally, the politicians have done their best, or worst, and are

about to head off on holiday, giving us all a rest from their ‘helpful’ advice and legislation. There should even be the prospect of a little personal downtime;

that’s if you’re part of agriculture’s support sector, of course, rather than preparing to drive a combine harvester. Actually, even a bit of combining may count as a break for some.

I’ve met a few farm business executives for whom driving a combine back on the family farm at harvest-time was viewed a pleasant change from convincing their Board of Directors that everything was still on target. Not that any of them would have settled for long-time combine driving, of course. Waking up in July this year is different, however, and boy do we

know it! By this point in 2019 we should already be reflecting on how the

first three months of Brexit has worked out, both for the UK and for the rest of the European Union. No more debates concerning what might or might happen, just the challenge of dealing with reality itself. Worrying in advance is often more stressful than coping with a

problem when it actually occurs. We kick into a different gear and get on with it. Except in the current situation, where we still don’t know and therefore can’t get on with it.

WHY OCTOBER IS WORSE THAN MARCH FOR MEAT TRADERS Furthermore, from a UK perspective, we have what amounts to three Prime Ministers (as I write, that is) and I’m tempted to say that number is at clearly three too many, if that wouldn’t sound too political. At least I’m not taking sides! Seeking some certainly for business during all this, the two

incoming PM contenders are competing with each other over who is the most committed to an October 31 leave date. Sorry, but it just keeps getting crazier. Hopefully, businesses are better prepared for leaving, whether

it’s a deal or no-deal outcome, than they were during the run-up to March 29, which you will recall was the first ‘definite’ leave date. Being better prepared, if that is ever really possible, doesn’t mean being any happier with either the Brexit process or the new timing of the UK’s


departure from the EU. That, in fact, was the crucial point made by the President of the

British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), Isla Roebuck, when he addressed the organisation’s recent annual meeting in London. After making it clear that the British meat industry didn’t, and

still doesn’t, want a no-deal conclusion, he agreed that Association members are probably better prepared now for whatever may unfold, than they had been in March. Despite that, the end of October is a considerably worst leaving date for meat traders than March would have been. This is because the end of October leads into the sector’s busiest

and potentially most profitable time of the year when the demand for meat reaches its annual pre-Christmas peak. Coping with a fresh and deal-less Brexit at such a time would therefore amount to an enormous challenge for BMPA members, concluded Mr Roebuck.

NO CHANCE OF UK-USA TRADE DEAL The same BMPA meeting also produced a sharp warning from former European Commission (EC) official, Lars Hoelgaard, that Britain should forget all about obtaining the sort of free trade agreement (FTA) with the USA outlined by President Trump when he made his much-debated State visit to Britain in early June. “It’s just not going to happen,” Mr Hoelgaard told his meat trade

audience, pointing out that the USA would require the UK to accept hormone beef, chlorinated chicken and all the GMOs currently approved for use in the States, before signing any such FTA. “Even if the UK was willing to accept these terms,” he added,

“it’s already clear that USA democrat leader, Nancy Pelosi, won’t allow any arrangement to go through that threatens the Good Friday Agreement.” Mr Hoelgaard, former deputy director of the EC’s DG Agri office,

also warned his audience to forget any prospect of the UK securing an early FTA with the EU, describing much of the current political talk in Britain as pure and simple ‘rubbish’. The best route forward for the UK, he added, would be to accept

some form of customs union, buy into being part of a common veterinary area and work to establish as close a degree of future regulatory alignment with the EU as possible. “The facts are that to continue trading with the EU, including in the

event of a no deal, you are going to have to return to the negotiating table sooner or later,” he told BMPA members.

EASING OF US/CHINA TRADE TENSIONS At least the latest easing of US/China trade tensions seems to suggest we could be heading back towards more normal relations between the two, which can only for good for world trade as well. Here again, the phrase ‘as I write’ is probably applicable, given

that the twists and turns issued via the Trump twitter account tend to make even ‘breaking news’ updates a bit of a risk. There is a lot to be gained, however, from maintaining good

meat trade routes with China at present, with the country’s spreading African Swine Fever problems creating a massive demand for imported protein.

Comment section is sponsored by Compound Feed Engineering Ltd

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