Following its success at G7, has the same British farming sector been thrown under the proverbial bus? - PKF Francis Clark
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Following its success at G7, has the same British farming sector been thrown under the proverbial bus?

This article was originally published in the Western Morning News on Wednesday 23 June 2021.

As a proud Cornishman it was fantastic to see the eyes of the world on my home county earlier this month as the leaders of the G7 and their respective entourages descended on Carbis Bay and St Ives.

I must congratulate all involved as they did the county proud. Even the protests were held with a degree of class and hopefully the economic benefits to Cornwall will be both long lasting and far reaching.

I was particularly pleased the Cornish food and drink sector gained plenty of media coverage showcasing to the world some of the county’s finest products (fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, cheese and clotted cream) and to see clients and friends being given an opportunity to have their moment in front of the camera.

I would like to think that Boris was waxing lyrical to his G7 pals as to the quality on show – the proximity of production, low associated carbon footprint and the high animal and environmental welfare standards adhered to in bringing the product to their plates as he tucked into the barbecue (wearing a suit) whilst watching the Red Arrows. The food and drink as well as the broader agricultural sector once again did Cornwall and Britain proud!

It was therefore with great sadness that just a few days later, in agreeing the ‘in principle’ free trade agreement with Australia, that, in part at least, that very same British farming sector was thrown under the proverbial bus.

Am I surprised about this? I am sad to say not at all. I feared that this was always likely to be an unfortunate consequence of Brexit.

It may be that the phasing out of the beef and sheep tariff over 10 years will provide partial protection to our farmers, but my main concern is the precedent this deal will now set.

I am particularly concerned promises made by the government that would not allow our farmers to be effectively undercut, by lower standard food imports as part of wider trade negotiations, are nothing but hot air. The relative power of Liz Truss’s Department of International Trade and George Eustice’s DEFRA being worrying clear for all to see.

It seems ludicrous that any deal is agreed in principle before the independent advisory body, the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC), has been able to take a proper look at it. We shall see how much teeth the TAC might have!

I fully appreciate that we live in a world of global competition and trade and that to a certain extent this will hopefully lead to an improvement in the efficiency of UK agriculture and new export opportunities, but this is not just a case of the moaning farmer.

As a nation we pride ourselves on expecting the highest level of food safety and animal welfare standards and going forward it surely cannot be acceptable for this issue to simply be exported!

With more trade deals to come, there is further uncertainty for the sector. At a time of reducing direct support and the uncertainty as to what the nuts and bolts of the sustainable farming incentive and other schemes might mean for the average family farm, commonplace in the South West, that has fed the nation for many generations.

For some, perhaps many, the lump sum exit scheme cannot come soon enough, albeit the devil here will be in the detail. For others, now is clearly a time to take stock and take a very hard look at the future opportunities available, to allow them to get the best return from the land, buildings and other resources found on the farm.

Please feel free to get in contact with myself or your local PKF Francis Clark advisor if you would like to discuss any of the above further.

FEATURING: Brian Harvey
As head of PKF Francis Clark’s agricultural sector group, Brian manages a dedicated team of agricultural accountants and tax advisers. He hails from a Cornish… read more
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