Brexit – SAOS Conference Looks Beyond the Uncertainties

 James Withers, Scotland Food & Drink

We are in control of more than we think” according to James Withers, speaking at the SAOS conference on 26th January. “We are in control of our ambition, our vision and our strategy. We control our brand and our market development activities. And we control the way we work together to achieve our aims.” James added that: “Every positive development that happens in food and drink stems from collaboration and co-operation.”

Speaking to more than 100 directors of Scotland’s agri co-ops, James pointed out that the provenance credentials and integrity of the Scottish brand is what distinguishes Scotland’s products from competitors and generates demand and value: “Scotland’s brand – our reputation and behaviour as a food and drink producer – is extraordinary. Others would beg for our asset”. However, with the exception of Scotch whisky, Scotland currently depends on too few markets around the world, with 80% of food exports destined for Europe, and only 7% each to Asia and North America.

Suggested “building blocks” for the future included a strategic “three market approach” (UK, EU, global) formulated from market intelligence, and aided by investment in supply chain collaboration, innovation and skills.

Tom Hind, AHDB

“The landing zone is clearer, but there is still massive uncertainty” was Tom Hind’s observation following the Prime Minister’s January speech on Brexit negotiating objectives. However, seeking a free trade agreement outside the single market or the customs union would take more than two years, and an interim agreement would be necessary to avoid a ‘cliff edge’ exit from the EU. This matters because of the level of tariffs that the EU levies on imports from third countries. However in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’, farm prices could rise in the short term, as UK products displace EU products in the UK.

Tom pointed to “significant global opportunities, if we can compete” in areas of the world where there is a growing, prosperous middle class. This meant predominantly Asia-Pacific countries.

In considering future agriculture policy, Tom emphasised the need to build resilience in the face of greater competition and declining financial support, suggesting that there could be a greater role for co-operation and co-ops. Other issues to resolve include the extent to which there will be a common UK-wide policy framework, and the level of budget priority afforded to agriculture.

James Graham, SAOS  

“To connect Scotland’s farmers with food and drink manufacturers more effectively, we need much closer alignment in future policies, strategies and resources”, was the message from James Graham. SAOS has submitted a series of proposals to the Scottish and UK Governments that suggest how this might be achieved. The key points included:

  • Deepen policy alignment and action via Scotland Food & Drink
  • A legal right for farmers to negotiate collectively with scale buyers
  • Remove competition law ambiguities relating to the legality of co-operative selling
  • Access to grants for innovation via POs and co-ops across all sectors
  • Link capital grants with supply chain improvement back to farms
  • Farmer Co-operation – invest in expert knowledge and facilitation
  • Supply Chain Improvement – invest in expert knowledge and facilitation
  • Invest in rural infrastructure, connectivity and communities.

The full text of SAOS’ submission to the Scottish Government can be viewed here: Leaving the EU – Submission of Views to Scottish Government .