EU Agrees Mercosur and Vietnam Trade Deals

On 28th June, twenty years to the day that negotiations started, the EU and Mercosur reached a political agreement on a substantial free trade deal.  The EU estimates that, when fully implemented, the deal will reduce tariffs its exporters face by approximately €4 billion.  On a busy weekend for Cecilia Malmström, EU Trade Commissioner, the EU also signed the free trade agreement with Vietnam which had been largely negotiated in 2018.  Both deals are meant to send a message that, with the backdrop of the US-China trade dispute and the increased friction likely to result from Brexit, that the EU is open for business and keen to conclude trade deals with other global partners.   These announcements follow similar recent deals with Japan and Canada.  From an agri-food perspective, the Mercosur deal is attracting most attention as it could have significant implications for sectors such as beef, poultry and sugar.

EU-Mercosur Trade Deal

The details of the Mercosur deal are complex.  In summary, the South American trade-bloc, consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, would see tariffs removed on 92% of all its imports to the EU over a period of 10 years.  Focusing on the agri-food sector, tariffs will be cut on 82% of imports coming from Mercosur, with remaining agri-food imports subject to more partial liberalisation.  Notably, this includes beef where a quota of 99,000 tonnes will be permitted to be exported to the EU at preferential rates.  This will be implemented over a five-year period.  Additional volumes of imports will also be allowed of poultrymeat (180,000 tonnes) and pigmeat, (25,000 tonnes), with import restrictions on sugar and ethanol also eased.

From an EU export perspective, tariffs will be eliminated on 91% of its total exports and 95% of agri-food exports.  The dairy sector in particular will benefit from improved market access, with a quota of 30,000  tonnes for cheese, 10,000 tonnes for skim-milk powder and 5,000 tonnes for infant milk formula (Mercosur tariffs are currently at around 28% for dairy products).  These volumes will be phased-in over 10 years.   Whilst improved market access for dairy was welcomed in some quarters, market experts opined that demand for dairy products in the Mercosur market is quite lethargic and is hampered by high inflation, sluggish economic growth and a volatile political environment. 

Mercosur has also committed to protecting the Geographical Indications of 357 EU food and drink products.  The EU is also keen to point out that its food standards on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) matters would not be compromised in any way.  The EU-Mercosur deal also has a Sustainable Development chapter which commits both parties to upholding their Paris Climate Accord commitments

European beef, poultry, sugar and ethanol producers are expected to come under increased pressure from cheaper imports from South America as a result of this proposed deal.  The agreement has already attracted condemnation from the EU’s farming lobby with organisations such as Copa-Copega and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) complaining that agriculture had been sold out to facilitate a wider deal.  Tellingly, the EU Commission also announced a €1 billion fund to help farmers to adjust to the market disturbances that could be potentially caused by the EU-Mercosur trade deal which indicates that there will be a significant impact on European farmers.

The feedback from the EU farming and food industry points to trouble ahead because, as our previous article on 26th June noted, the agreement thus far has only been at the political level and a number of hurdles remain.  Firstly, it will be translated into legal text before being put forward for ratification by EU Member States and the European Parliament.  Like the EU-Canada (CETA) agreement, there can still be several twists and turns in the process and the deal could be scuppered by a Member State or by a regional Parliament such as Wallonia.  Already, there is significant pressure being exerted on the Irish Government not to back the deal and it is anticipated that there will be similar calls elsewhere.

Any on-farm effects from this deal remain some way off, and in any case would be phased in over several years.  By the time this happens, the UK is likely to have left the European Union, so the impact of this particular deal might be negligible.  That said, the EU-Mercosur deal increases the competitive threat of South American products in European markets.  It is also likely to offer a template for any future trade deals between the UK and Mercosur which the UK is likely to prioritise post-Brexit. 

EU-Vietnam Trade Deal

This pact will eventually see duties removed on 99% of the EU’s imports from Vietnam.  Whilst the formal text has been approved by the European Commission, it still requires ratification by the European Council (representing the EU Member States) and by the European Parliament.  This is expected later this year.

From an agri-food export perspective, Vietnam with its population of around 95 million represents a fast-growing South East Asian market.  Its dairy industry is valued at approximately £5 billion and it currently imports 80% of this demand.  Average incomes have also been rising thereby driving demand for beef and pork products in particular, although the US and New Zealand account for the vast majority of these imports.

As with Mercosur, the UK’s pending exit from the EU means that it may not benefit significantly from this deal.  That said, much will depend on the length of the transition (implementation) period arising from the eventual Brexit deal and the UK’s access to third country market that have free-trade deals with the EU as part of this.  However, the South East Asian market is lucrative and the UK needs to prioritise the development of such markets as it resumes its independent trade policy.

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

How Has Farming Changed Since the UK was Last Outside the EU?

UK farming will soon be operating outside the European Union for the first time since we joined the, then, EEC in 1973. In preparation for its round of Spring Seminars, Andersons the Farm Business Consultants have looked into the archives to compare UK farming 46 years ago with today’s sector. The table below shows some key indicators for the agricultural sector. (All financial figures are in real terms at 2017 prices.)

At the farm level, the industry is smaller in monetary terms and less profitable (although land values are much higher). However, the wider food chain has done an impressive job in boosting food exports and feeding households cheaply. Food self-sufficiency has not changed greatly. For those advocating a completely free-trade approach to food after Brexit, it is interesting that food self-sufficiency was close to 30% in the 1930s – the last time it was tried. The industry is also doing ‘more with less’, in terms of people, land and animals.

Clearly, UK farming is a very different industry to that of the early 1970’s. However, there is also an argument that being part of the Common Agricultural Policy for 40 plus years has held the sector back from what it might have achieved. The next decade or two seems set to unleash even greater change.

There is some trepidation about what the future might hold for farming. One of the ways to reduce uncertainty is to gain the best understanding of the current situation and possible future direction. Andersons are running a series of Seminars at thirteen venues around Great Britain in March, looking at the prospects for UK agriculture in greater detail. This includes the opportunities post-Brexit and the issues the sector needs to tackle, whatever sort of Brexit emerges. For more information please go to www.theandersonscentre.co.uk/Seminars

Ends

No. of words: 444

Author: Richard King

Date: 13th February 2019

This news release has been sent from Andersons, the Farm Business Consultants Ltd, Old Bell House, 2 Nottingham Street, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire LE13 1NW. For further information please contact Michelle Turnbull on +44 (0) 1362 688761 or +44 (0) 7904 436288.

Brexit: Future Relationship White Paper

(Compiled 16th July 2018)

Following on from last week’s negotiating proposals supposedly agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers, the UK Government published, on 12th July, its long-awaited White Paper setting out its detailed vision on the future UK-EU relationship.  The 98-page document has received a cautious welcome by the EU-27 who are mindful of the deep divisions within the British Government.

In the White Paper, the UK Government is essentially seeking an ‘association agreement’ with the EU of unprecedented scale and depth so that the UK can achieve a ‘principled and practical Brexit’ which respects the referendum result and simultaneously acknowledges the deep trading relationship between the two parties.  The key points from an agri-food perspective are set out below;

  • Frictionless trade for goods: at the border between the UK and the EU.  This encompasses the establishment of a free trade area for goods as a means to protect the deeply integrated supply chains and ‘just-in-time’ processes developed over the past 40-plus years.
  • Common Rulebook for goods including agri-food: would seek to avoid customs and regulatory checks at the border but would only cover ‘those rules necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border’.  The White Paper identifies three broad categories of rules relevant to agri-food and fisheries:
    • Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) rules – would be included in the common rulebook.  Linked with this, the UK would ‘make an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with the relevant EU rules, with all those rules legislated for by Parliament or the devolved legislatures.’
    • Rules relating to wider food policy – this would include marketing rules that determine how agri-food products can be described and labelled.  As these do not need to be checked at the border they would not be included in the common rulebook.  Geographical Indicators (GIs) (e.g Stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray Pork Pies) would also be included in this category and the UK will be establishing its own GI scheme after Brexit in accordance with WTO rules.  As part of this, the UK would open its GI scheme to both UK and non-UK applicants.
    • Agricultural and Fisheries Policies – as previously communicated, the UK will leave both the CAP and the Common Fisheries Policies, thus enabling it to pursue domestic policies which best serve the UK’s interests.  Thus, these rules would not be included in the common rulebook. For fisheries, the UK is proposing annual negotiations with the EU on access to its waters.  Some EU Member States will have significant concerns about this.
  • Facilitated Customs Arrangement (FCA): would seek to ‘remove the need for customs checks and controls between the UK and the EU as if they were a combined customs territory’. The Government claims that it would enable the UK to control its own tariffs for trade with the rest of the world. For businesses this would mean;
    • where a good reaches the UK border, and the destination can be robustly demonstrated by a trusted trader, it will pay the UK tariff if it is destined for the UK, and the EU tariff if it is destined for the EU. This is most likely to be relevant to finished goods; and
    • where a good reaches the UK border and the destination cannot be robustly demonstrated at the point of import, it will pay the higher of the UK or EU tariff. Where the good’s destination is later identified to be a lower tariff jurisdiction, it would be eligible for a repayment from the UK Government equal to the difference between the two tariffs. This is most likely to be relevant to intermediate goods.

The UK Government claims that up to 96% of UK goods trade would be able to pay the correct or no tariff upfront, with the remainder most likely to use the repayment mechanism. This is in effect combining the Customs Partnership and ‘Max-Fac’ proposals in the last year’s paper, both of which were rejected by the EU. There was an acknowledgement by the UK that this system would become operational in stages as both sides completed the necessary preparations. Given where the infrastructure is currently at, this process could take several years. The UK Government has already stated that it envisages the UK remaining part of the EU Customs Union for a year after the end of the Transition Period. This may well get extended. It is unclear what ability the UK will have to strike Free-Trade Agreements (FTAs) with other countries whilst it remains within the Customs Union.

  • Rules of Origin: agreement not to impose tariffs, quotas or routine requirements for Rules of Origin on any UK-EU trade in goods.  This would allow EU content to count as local content in UK exports to its FTA partners for Rules of Origin purposes, and UK content to count as local content in EU exports to its FTA partners.  ‘Diagonal cumulation’ would allow UK, EU and FTA partner content to be considered interchangeable in trilateral trade.
  • Trade with non-EU countries: the UK’s claims that the FCA will enable it to strike Free Trade Agreements with non-EU countries as the UK will have its own schedule with the WTO.
  • Participation in EU agencies: UK would seek continued participation in agencies which facilitate goods being placed on the EU market but conceded that it would not have voting rights.
  • State Aid: the UK would continue to apply the EU’s State Aid rules via a common rulebook. Although elsewhere in the document, the Government is seeking to reserve its right to make its own arrangements regarding tax. As highlighted in a recent article, there were questions about whether there would be limits on the UK implementing agricultural policy tools such as tax deposit schemes (e.g. similar to the Australian Farm Management Deposit Scheme) which do not comply with EU State Aid rules. This is an area that will require clarification, potentially via the Agriculture Bill due later in the year. 
  • Maintain high standards in environment, employment and consumer protection rules: includes ‘non-regression provisions’ to ensure that current high standards are maintained by the UK.
  • Northern Ireland/Ireland: taken together, the UK Government believes that its proposals (including the points set out above) would see the UK and the EU meet their commitments to Northern Ireland and Ireland through the overall future relationship.  It claims that this would preserve the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK, honour the letter and the spirit of the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement and ensure that the ‘backstop’ solution of the Withdrawal Agreement will not have to be used (i.e. Northern Ireland remaining in the Single Market).  The Irish Government in particular has responded positively to this as it is also seeking to resolve the frictionless border riddle via the overall UK-EU relationship.  However, the UK Government’s proposals are arguably narrower than what was envisaged in the December Joint Report which contained commitments on protecting the all-island economy and North-South cooperation. The latest UK proposals are very much focused on goods trade only (i.e. services are omitted). 
  • New Joint Institutional Arrangements: these are required to manage the future relationship in key areas such as the common rulebook, including a clear process to update relevant rules in a manner that respects the UK’s sovereignty and provides Parliamentary scrutiny.  This will include regular dialogues at leader (PM) and Ministerial levels.  There would be a Joint Committee to discuss and interpret regulations as well to resolve disputes which may arise.  At times, such disputes could be resolved via a binding independent arbitration.  These bodies would have oversight by the European Courts of Justice (ECJ) as the interpreter of EU rules, but only the UK courts (whilst giving regard to EU case law) could give judgements on rules which apply to the UK.  Here, the UK is effectively conceding that in areas where it commits to adhering to the common rulebook, the ECJ would (indirectly) hold sway. 
  • End to Free Movement: however, the UK proposes introducing new frameworks which would enable ‘UK and EU citizens to continue to travel to each other’s countries and businesses and professionals to provide services’.  In agri-food, the provision of services associated with the supply of input equipment for example, is an important consideration and whilst the UK proposals imply that such arrangements could continue along much the same lines as present, questions remain about the extent to which this will be the case. 
  • Mutual recognition of professional qualifications: including for those working in the veterinary and agri-food sectors.  The extent to which this includes low or unskilled workers remains to be seen and is unlikely to be clarified until the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) publishes its report in September

The white paper is available via: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-future-relationship-between-the-united-kingdom-and-the-european-union

Whilst there has been a polite initial response from the EU, the proposals are likely to raise several objections from their side including:

  • Indivisibility of the Single Market:  the EU will fundamentally object to the UK wanting to remain in the Single Market for goods, without accepting the EU’s rules on freedom of capital, services and movement.  This separation, combined with the potential for divergence in areas not covered by the common rulebook, could give the UK competitive advantages in years to come and could undermine the rationale for EU membership by others.  This could potentially include the protection currently afforded by GI designations to EU-27 brands (e.g. Parmesan cheese) sold to the UK if the UK decided not to continue with existing GI legal protections.
  • Trade with non-EU countries: whilst the proposals focused heavily on tariff-free access between the UK and the EU, the UK wants to reserve its right to do free trade deals with other countries, potentially including agri-food products.  Whilst the UK’s participation in a common rulebook for agri-food trade would limit the scope for cheap imports, there is still a possibility that such trade could significantly displace EU exports to the UK, if third countries met the standards required.  This would have an onward impact on domestic prices in the EU-27.  The EU is expected to push-back strongly on this to curtail any potential displacement.
  • Complexity and cost: the UK’s proposals amount to an elaborate set of mechanisms to replicate its current access to the EU across a wide variety of areas.  To some, it is akin to the arrangements between the EU and Switzerland which Brussels is keen to rationalise.  Therefore, the EU is likely to have serious reservations about the creation of new frameworks adding yet more complexity to what is already and intricate tapestry.  There is little detail in the White Paper as to how much all of this will cost, but one can anticipate that the EU will expect the UK to bear a substantial proportion of any funding involved.

Whilst many questions remain unresolved, the UK Government’s White Paper provides a credible starting point for the substantive negotiations with the EU to take place. These need to be urgently accelerated as there is a huge amount of ground to cover between now and the autumn. For the agri-food sector, the commitment to ‘ongoing harmonisation’ via a common rulebook for agri-food trade should provide some welcome reassurance for the industry generally, particularly those which are heavily dependent on EU export markets. Furthermore, given President Trump’s claim that the UK proposals would likely ‘kill’ the prospect of the US-UK trade deal, this may also be seen as a positive by those concerned with the potential for cheaper imports to undermine UK farming. That said, a lot of uncertainty remains especially given the principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.

Articles such as the above are posted on Andersons’ AgriBrief website on a regular basis. If you would like further information please visit; www.agribrief.co.uk

Impact of WTO Trading on NI Beef and Sheep meat

Switch to WTO trading conditions could devastate Northern Irish farming

If the UK fails to agree a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU and has to instead revert to World Trade Organization trading conditions, Northern Ireland beef and sheep meat output could decline by 21%, with exports to the EU collapsing by over 90%. These are the findings of a new 124-page report commissioned by the Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (the LMC).

The report, produced by farm business consultancy The Andersons Centre with support from Oxford Economics, gauged the impact on the Northern Irish beef and sheep meat industry of moving from EU to World Trade Organization (WTO) trading conditions under two scenarios: 1) “WTO Equivalence” (where the UK and EU impose reciprocal tariffs on each other’s imports based on the current EU Common External Tariff, as well as an assumption that there would be mutual recognition of veterinary and other technical standards) and 2) a unilateral “Open-Door” trade policy whereby the UK reduces its tariffs on imports from major agricultural producers but without any reciprocal agreements in place. 

The report’s key findings were:

  • If the UK adopted a unilateral Open-Door trade policy, Northern Irish beef and sheep meat output would decline by 21%, as exports to the EU collapsed by over 90%.
  • However, even under WTO Equivalence, whilst output could rise marginally in the short-run (as domestic consumption displaced EU imports) gains would be eroded by declining consumption in the longer-term due to higher prices, and exports to the EU would still fall by over 90%.

The report also found that:

  • Tariffs for meat sales are substantial, ranging from 40% to around 100%.
  • Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) are estimated to amount to a 3% tariff equivalent under WTO Equivalence and 5.7% under an Open-Door trade policy. These estimates are based on a thorough examination of NTBs and their impact on the red meat sector rather than relying on generic estimates, which is a drawback with previous studies on this issue.
  • Farm profits decline in both scenarios particularly when combined with reductions in farm subsidies.

The report concludes that if an Open-Door trade policy was adopted, the viability of beef and sheep farming across large swathes of Northern Ireland would be seriously threatened, with grave consequences for the wider Northern Irish rural economy.

The report makes six recommendations for policy-makers:

  1. Agree interim Single Market (EEA) and Customs Union membership for at least 5 years post-Brexit to negotiate the finer details of the eventual deal and develop the required infrastructure, with a mid-way review to examine whether enough progress has been made (e.g. technology to facilitate frictionless cross-border trade)to affect timeframes.
  2. Set up an Agri-food Workers’ Scheme to permit continued access to labour for Northern Ireland processors, coupled with incentives for locally-based staff.
  3. Bolster efforts to get Northern Irish products approved for sale in non-EU countries, including gaining mutual recognition of veterinary standards.
  4. Formulate a long-term strategy for food and farming.
  5. Ensure that food imports meet the same rigorous standards as domestic produce.
  6. Adopt EU Official Controls of animals and meat products at slaughter houses, meat plants and collection centres for live cattle within the UK and Republic of Ireland to permit frictionless cross-border trade.

If WTO trading did come to pass, the report suggests several further recommendations, including as a last resort considering a “Cyprus-type model” for cross border trade if no other agreement is possible.  This is because the island of Cyprus is within the EU, but only the southern half is recognised as within the Single Market.  Consequently, there are special rules regarding the trade of goods between the southern half and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. However, the report also notes that whilst a Cyprus-type model could help to facilitate trade reasonably close to existing levels, potential obstacles remain.

The report’s other recommendations in the event of WTO trading coming to pass include setting bilateral Tariff Rate Quotas to mirror historic trade flows between the UK, EU-27 and non-EU countries, as well as Northern Irish beef and sheep meat exporters capturing more of the domestic UK market and opening-up new markets.

Michael Haverty, lead author of the study, said: “An Open-Door trade policy would have a devastating impact on the industry both domestically and internationally. Whilst a Cyprus-type model highlights the need for contingency planning, the ideal outcome remains avoiding WTO trading conditions by agreeing interim Single Market and Customs Union membership for 5 years post-Brexit, incorporating a mid-way review, to negotiate and implement a more considered long-term agreement.”

The report is available via:

https://theandersonscentre.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/LMC-Final-Report_31_Aug_17.pdf