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Zero-tariff frictionless trade with EU ‘vital’, says farming leader

Brexit provides opportunities for food exports but the EU remains a crucial market, the new National Farmers’ Union president says.

Zero-tariff, frictionless trade with the European Union after the UK leaves the bloc is vital, the new National Farmers’ Union president has said.

Minette Batters, who last week was elected as the first female NFU president in its 110-year history, said Brexit and the renegotiation of trade deals provided the opportunity to make British food the envy of the world.

In her first speech as president, the Wiltshire beef farmer said she wanted to build on the success of businesses already selling British produce to all corners of the world to boost food exports.

This is not a time to turn our back on the EU market, it remains a crucial market for British farmers Minette Batters

She said she wanted to see an increase in cereals being sold to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, more premium dairy products to the US and Canada, and more pork, lamb and beef to countries such as China and Japan.

She added it was time to “turbo-charge the Red Tractor” – the food and farming assurance mark – to build up the British food brand and ensure people around the world valued and demanded UK produce.

But she warned: “This is not a time to turn our back on the EU market, it remains a crucial market for British farmers, with 40% of our lamb, 80% of our dairy exports and 75% of our wheat and barley exports currently going into Europe.

“It is vital we have zero-tariff, frictionless trade with the EU marketplace.”

She called on the Government to match its promotion of UK industry and defence interests abroad with support for farmers and pushing British agricultural goods.

Amid debate over the future of farm subsidies, which the Government has said will be replaced after Brexit by payments for “public goods” – such as protecting the environment and high animal welfare standards – Ms Batters said: “We believe that the food we produce is a public good.

“If we’re going to prioritise these standards and have the regulation that underpins them, that comes with a cost.

“If you want a green world, if we really are serious about the environment, and really are serious about feeding the nation, we’ve got to look at how we’re going to fund that, we’ve got to recognise it’s got a price tag attached in it, we’ve got to invest in it.

“The British public have said they want high welfare standards, they’ve said they want high standards of environmental responsibility, and it comes at a price. Those bolt-ons, effectively, are a public good.”

Ms Batters also said it was a priority to secure access for seasonal workers from abroad to help with the harvest, warning growers “are so worried about this future harvest and bringing it in”.

Along with Brexit, technological change would be “felt in our fields and farms more keenly than in any other industry”, she said, with drones, satellites and artificial intelligence helping target inputs and cutting the use of chemicals.

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