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FDF head on Brexit: ‘The Government needs our help’

Ian Wright also praised Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove as someone he could “do business with”.

NEGOTIATIONS: Ian Wright said the food industry should help the Government by offering workable solutions to Brexit problems

The head of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has said the food industry must present practical and workable solutions to the problems caused by Brexit for negotiators to table in Brussels.

Ian Wright, who has been Chief Executive of the FDF since 2015, made the comments at Campden BRI Day 2018, an event showcasing technology and innovation in the food and drink sector. Mr Wright delivered the 40th annual lecture, joining company ranging from the Food Standards Agency’s Heather Hancock and Vice Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer at PepsiCo, Dr. Mehmood Khan, who have given the address in previous years. 

His speech, entitled A Whole New World, began by reflecting on the virtues of the current food supply in the UK by breaking down the soundbite “Britons today have access to a wider range of safe, nutritious, high-quality food and drink, at all price points, than at any time in their history”.

“Every part of that sentence is true,” he said. “Access. Safe. High quality. Nutritious. At every price point. Than ever before.

“And therein lies the problem. The typical reaction to that soundbite, when deployed, is not, “Wow – amazing!”, it is, “Yeah – so what?”

“Too many of us have over recent years come to take for granted the amazing success story that UK food and drink represents.”

He went on to address Brexit, a subject which for many will remain an elephant in the room regardless of the topic of conversation given its seemingly endless implications on all areas of the food supply chain.

Mr Wright said: “Our industry and the nation’s food security must not be used as a bargaining chip to secure EU market access for the service sector or for manufactured goods.

“The only acceptable outcome is one that delivers:

  • Continued tariff-free UK-EU trade in all agrifood and drink products;
  • Continued access to EU FTAs during and beyond the transition period;
  • As frictionless as possible trade that avoids delays and added costs;
  • No physical border in Ireland where the majority of goods traded are food and drink.

“Neither of the two future customs models proposed by the Government satisfies all of these criteria. There is clearly much work to be done to find a model that delivers for industry and time has almost run out.

“Tariffs aside, it is clear the Government must avoid the EU’s standard checks on imported food and drink from third countries. This includes checks of documents, ID and physical inspections that would add substantial delays to deliveries.

“[…] Industry must work together to secure a favourable outcome before the transition ends on 31 December 2020.

“If not, these talks will be guided by the EU’s standard off the shelf trade terms that are not designed for trade between near markets with such closely integrated supply chains and such value at stake.

“The Government needs our help. A successful outcome can only be achieved if as an industry we present practical, workable solutions for them to table in negotiations.”

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