The Food Industry – Brexit Scenarios
Now that the UK has voted to leave the European Union, what consequences and effects does it bring to the nation’s food industry, and the businesses under it? Economists and industry figures foresee the following:
1. The opportunity to grow food and drink exports faster.
Around 60% of UK farmers voted to leave the EU, citing its red tape on farming as their main reason. These include the impending ban on glyphosate, which is the preferred herbicide of UK farmers, as well as the Union’s ban on GMO crops. Without these, farmers will be able to grow their crops using their preferred methods.
2. However, leaving the EU could result in higher tariffs and trade barriers between the UK and the EU. What future trading arrangements would look like isn’t clear yet. According to Gary Kushner of Hogan Lovells LLP, the following scenarios are possible:
• EEA (European Economic Area) – like arrangement with the EU (e.g., Norway)
• Bilateral agreements with the EU (e.g., Switzerland) or (should no trading arrangement with the EU be agreed) The UK could be subject to tariffs that the EU applies to all other World Trade Organisation (WTO) members (30% tariff on sugars and confectionery, 20% on tobacco and beverages, 10% on fruit and vegetables, for example).
3. Moreover, food and drink sector could face potential supply chain disruptions.
Richard Morawetz, senior credit officer at Moody’s, said food companies that sourced and manufactured their goods locally would not be as affected as those that relied on imports. Major retailers such as Tesco, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer and Next, are focused on British sales, but their supply chains could be affected if the UK were to impose import tariffs on EU suppliers.
4. Food retailers and restaurants may be hit by higher wages.
Many food businesses run on immigrant staff, so the decision may curb their ability to recruit staff at lower wages from other European countries. Businesses that have had problems meeting their recruitment needs in the UK may also be hit. Food manufacturers and restaurants have the highest share of foreign-born workers, according to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
5. The food industry may benefit more from scientific advances in the UK.
The EU’s so-called scepticism of science has hampered progress in the UK food industry, according to Owen Paterson, leading Brexit campaigner and former secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The decision will allow the UK to weigh both risks and benefits of new technology without being hampered by existing technologies in the EU.