David Cameron has been warned that growing Euroscepticism in government could seriously damage the interests of UK food and drink.
Leading players in the sector including Diageo, AB Sugar, the BRC, the NFU and the Scotch Whisky Association have given a clear and robust signal to government that Europe’s remit over trade and investment has a positive influence on the sector’s competitivesness.
The BRC claimed trade policy was one of the EU’s “success stories”. The UK might enjoy more visibility and independence if it operated an independent trade policy, but “in reality it has much greater reach and is more likely to achieve commonly agreed trade objectives by operating through the EU”, it said in its response to a call for evidence to the government’s Balance of Competences Review.
Some suppliers hailed the significant financial advantages the UK reaped from being part of the world’s largest trading block and the clout it carried at the international negotiating table.
Diageo, for example, said it had benefited from a number of EU-brokered free trade agreements with estimated savings in the “tens of millions”, noting that the EU-India free trade agreement could have “a transformative effect on Scotch whisky exports”.
But forget organic push, says NFU
The National Farmers’ Union used the call for evidence on the single market to attack the European Union on its promotion of organic foods, which it cited as “an example of where EU activity has not been helpful, and perhaps indicates a waste of resources”.
It criticised the EU for promoting organic. “There appears to be little rationale for the EU to become involved in promoting organics, particularly given that there are not proven benefits over and above other farming systems.”
“Diageo would be concerned by any risk to the UK’s ability to exercise influence over EU trade policy,” it added.
Farmers, traditionally vocal in criticising the EU, in particular the CAP, also supported the EU’s role in relation to international trade policy and said calls for the UK to undertake trade as a national competence were “of particular concern”.
If the protection currently afforded by the EU was jeopardised it could risk the “long-term competitiveness of the UK’s agrifood sector” and have “a very negative impact on British agriculture”, the NFU said.
Although most suppliers were broadly supportive of the EU’s competence over trade policy, there were some dissenting voices. Tate & Lyle Sugars argued that the EU and UK did not always share the same priorities in terms of agricultural trade policy, particularly in relation to sugar. “The means that UK priorities are reduced by working through the EU,” it said. “This has resulted in a trade diverting effect for the UK.”
And giving evidence on the single market, British American Tobacco accused the EU Commission of a “power grab” over its proposals to revise the Tobacco Products Directive.
The Balance of Competences Review is an audit of the EU’s powers to act in certain areas and an analysis of the UK’s EU membership.