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Farming

Agri organisations want Brexit extensions

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THE UK Farming Roundtable, representing farmers and growers from agricultural organisations across the UK, has today written to all MPs urging them to unite around a single option for an orderly Brexit by Wednesday next week. Failing this, the Government must request a further extension to the Article 50 negotiations.

The letter said: “We are intensely frustrated at the continuing impasse over the UK’s departure from the EU and urge you to take whatever steps are necessary, right now, to ensure the UK does not leave without a deal in the coming days.

“Government and Parliament must ensure our departure from the EU is an orderly one. The farming sector is clear that leaving without a deal would cause huge economic damage to British farming. Over recent months farming organisations, alongside individual farmers and growers, have consistently warned MPs of the severe consequences that no-deal would have, not only for our agricultural and horticultural sectors and the jobs they provide, but also for food supply in the UK and the high standards to which our food is produced and our farmed environment is managed.

“To this end, if parliament has failed to coalesce around a single and clear option for an orderly departure from the EU by the end of the day on Wednesday April 3, the government must request an extension from the EU27 to the Article 50 negotiations. This extension must be of sufficient length to allow government and MPs to agree on a stable way forward out of the current impasse that ensures a stable operating environment for farm businesses. A further extension of just a matter of weeks is not acceptable, given the damaging time and resource that has already been expended in managing the threat of a no-deal departure over recent weeks and months.

“It is unacceptable for farming – and for wider British businesses – to be in a perpetual state of uncertainty with no clear idea of the trading conditions they could be operating under in just a matter of days. This extreme uncertainty is already having real-world impacts on British farming and food production, with investments being put on hold, critical jobs remaining unfilled and farm-gate prices facing increasing downward pressure.

“Time is almost up. MPs must now consider the concessions they will need to accommodate to bring to an end the enormous and damaging uncertainty that is already undermining our food and farming sectors, not to mention the wider economy.”

WELSH FARMING UNIONS RESPOND

Responding to the Parliament’s rejection of the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, NFU Cymru President Mr John Davies said: “It is very clear that Parliamentary support for the Prime Minister’s proposals is simply not there. Brexit uncertainties continue to bear down on the sector, meaning that we have no idea of the trading conditions that we might be operating under in a matter of days, something which is having a severe impact on the sector’s confidence and general wellbeing.

“If we are leaving the European Union, then this must be done in an orderly fashion. That is why I lent my signature to a letter which went to all MPs yesterday, stating that if by Wednesday 3rd April Parliament has not coalesced around a single clear option for an orderly departure from the EU, the government must seek an extension from the EU27 to the Article 50 process. Such an extension must be long enough to find a way forward out of the current impasse which delivers a stable operating environment for farm businesses.”

FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “With power over the Brexit process now resting firmly with Parliament, MPs need to recognise that withdrawing Article 50 is the only way to secure sufficient time to allow a consensus to be reached which bridges the political divides which exist within and between parties.”

Having called for Article 50 to be revoked in January, in recent weeks the FUW has called for preparations to be made for holding European Parliament elections and for all relevant legislation to be changed to allow Brexit to take place over a far more realistic timetable.

“The uncertainty that is affecting businesses across the UK is a direct result of the UK Government’s decision to try and achieve the unachievable over a very short timescale – something we warned against on the day the referendum outcome was announced.

Businesses need to know it will be ‘business as usual’ for a set period and have plenty of warning – months or years – of what exactly will happen after that date so they can prepare properly.

“It is a disgrace that businesses have been facing complete uncertainty as to what might happen in just days’ time, and the responsibility for that lies firmly with the UK government.”

Mr Roberts reiterated the FUW’s long-held view that leaving the EU while staying in the Single Market and Customs Union remained the best way to bridge the political divide which had come from the EU referendum.

“I am heartened by the outcome of the indicative votes which took place last week, and all the necessary moves to allow that process of compromise and common sense to continue need to take place. Revoking Article 50 would be a sure way to give the process sufficient time.

“At the very least, agreeing a lengthy extension period and holding EU elections would bring us closer to having a timetable that properly reflects the magnitude of the task at hand.”

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Community

Farm shop helps disabled

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A retail outlet selling a range of products handcrafted by local disabled people has been officially opened.

The farm shop at Scolton Manor near Haverfordwest also provides employment for those with a disability.

It is the result of collaborative working between a number of organisations.

A leading role is played by Pembrokeshire County Council’s Norman Industries – a supported factory in Snowdrop Lane, Haverfordwest, which employs people with a disability.

The opening of the Scolton Manor farm shop has enabled Norman Industries to employ a further six people in the unit, giving them experience in a retail environment and customer service.

A further three disabled people have been taken on in its craft workshop bringing the total number of people on its supported
employment programme to over 50.    

The shop supports a wide range of Pembrokeshire producers – not just Norman Industries – and has opened up a range of work-based alternative day opportunities for people in craft industries.  

Funding has been accessed through a variety of sources including from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) through its Access to Work programme, through Workways+ from European Funds and through the Welsh Government’s Integrated Care Fund.

The official opening was performed by the Vice Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council, Michael James.

He told guests: “This enterprise is an important step in improving the wellbeing of Pembrokeshire citizens. Along with the other initiatives run by Norman Industries, it shows how the County Council has improved its support and employment of people with disability over the last two years.”

Councillor James said the work had resulted in Pembrokeshire County Council being recognised as a DWP Disability Confident
Leader – the first local authority in Wales to achieve the distinction.

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Farming

Frictionless trade vital for meat industry

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GIVING evidence to a powerful committee of AMs this week, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) Chief Executive Gwyn Howells acknowledged that preparing for four different Brexit deadlines has been tiresome for the industry over the past year.
He emphasised, however, that free and frictionless trade with Europe was still crucial for the lamb and beef industries.
Addressing a meeting of the External Affairs Committee in the Senedd, Gwyn Howells discussed the extensive contingency planning that HCC and others, in co-ordination with Welsh Government, had undertaken since 2016.
“Welsh meat exporters have been consistent in raising alarm at the prospect of massive WTO-level tariffs if the UK leaves the EU without a deal,” said Gwyn. “However non-tariff barriers such as additional paperwork and delays at ports are also a concern. In the event of a Brexit deal, a lengthy transition period may be needed to get these issues right. It was good to have the opportunity to discuss this matter with AMs.”
He added, “Companies, as well as customs authorities, will have to be aware of what’s needed in terms of non-tariff barriers, but with exporters having had to prepare for several political deadlines already, ‘Brexit Fatigue’ is an issue.”
Gwyn Howells referred to collaborative work, such as the Welsh Government-funded Enhanced Export Programme, which was showing dividends in growing new markets. But he warned that this could not replace free access to established European customers.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen trade begin with a number of new countries such as Japan, and there are promising signs that Welsh Lamb exports to the Middle East will be substantially up in 2019, partly thanks to HCC’s ongoing work in the region reinforced by Welsh Government help,” he said.
“However, the lamb trade to Europe is worth over £120 million a year, so continued free trade with our nearest neighbours is vital whatever political solution is found.”

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Farming

NFU seek Basic Payment Scheme commitment

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NFU CYMRU has asked the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to make an early commitment to maintaining the Basic Payment Scheme in Wales for 2021.
In a meeting this week NFU Cymru President John Davies asked the Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM, to commit to maintaining the Basic Payment Scheme unchanged for 2021.
Speaking after the meeting, John Davies said: “The events in Westminster these last few days mean that our future relationship with the EU remains as uncertain as it has ever been, with the prospect of a general election in the not too distant future, this means further political upheaval, and by extension more uncertainty. The fact that the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill was not carried forward when parliament was prorogued means that the intended legal basis for setting Welsh agricultural policy has now also disappeared, and we are now essentially back to square one.
“At the end of last year, Welsh Government announced that the Basic Payment Scheme would remain unchanged in 2020; we welcomed that announcement as it offered Welsh farming some stability at a critical time. The uncertainty in the intervening period has only intensified, NFU Cymru considers the possibility of a disorderly Brexit to be a very live possibility, either after a failure to reach an agreement at the end of any extended Article 50 period, or alternatively if the UK fails to agree on a future trading relationship with the EU27 during the transition period.
“There are many factors completely outside of our control which considered individually or collectively would have a very detrimental impact on Welsh agriculture. NFU Cymru is very much of the view that this calls for a cautious and restrained approach from the Welsh Government when it comes to developing future agricultural policy. We would urge Welsh Government to take its time and not to hasten to move away from the present arrangements until we have a far clearer picture of the sort of future trading relationship we will have with the EU27.
“We fully respect that the timing and nature of Brexit, the general election and the fate of the Agriculture Bill are all outside the hands of Welsh Government, but what we do ask for is the support of Welsh Government on the areas that sit within its remit. In our meeting with the Minister, we have asked if she will make an early commitment to the continuation of the BPS unchanged for 2021.
“We have also asked the Minister to ensure that the additional £5.2 million per year for the next two years made as part of the UK Government’s response to the Lord Bew review last month is used as a top-up to the BPS. This funding has been allocated to Wales because average Pillar 1 payments have historically been lower in Wales than in some other parts of the UK. We therefore firmly believe that as the Lord Bew review was about correcting this matter then the additional money should be made as a top-up to the BPS and not spent elsewhere.”

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