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Freight Transport Association (FTA) deputy chief executive James Hookham has expressed delight that negotiations between Brexit secretary David Davis and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier appear to have reached a breakthrough which would benefit the logistics industry.
“It seems there has been some acceptance reached on the rights of EU citizens and the need for a transitionary period, once Brexit is enacted,” said Mr Hookham.
“This is particularly important for the supply chain sector as, those some refer to as EU citizens we refer to as truck drivers, warehouse operators and other valuable members of the team.”
According to the FTA, 13% (33,000) of van drivers active in the UK are from the EU, as well as 26% of the UK’s warehousing workforce.
“Cabinet ministers, it seems, are beginning to recognise the significance of the supply chains and their importance in keeping Britain trading,” added Mr Hookham. “The chancellor noting that there is cabinet consensus for a ‘transitionary period’ is great news.”
Mr Hookham also praised international trade secretary Liam Fox for indicating the UK would maintain EU standards following Brexit.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week, Mr Fox said settling a free-trade agreement with the EU should be “one of the easiest in human history”.
“We are already beginning with zero tariffs,” said Mr Fox. “And we are already beginning at the point of maximal regulatory equivalence, as it is called.”
Mr Hookham told The Loadstar yesterday Mr Fox was effectively agreeing to maintain EU standards, describing it as an “astounding” statement to make.
“In normal trade deals, most of the negotiating time is taken up by agreeing standards, but Mr Fox has indicated UK and EU standards will be in lock-step,” said Mr Hookham.
“This is an important statement and, overall, the last seven days have been positive on the Brexit front, with cabinet ministers clearly recognising the importance of the supply chain.”
However, he cautioned he was not certain that Mr Fox had fully understood what he had said, noting that by agreeing to maintain EU standards, the UK could hinder trade deals with other countries with differing standards.
This view has been backed by a report from the House of Lords, which found maintaining both free trade and, for example, current levels of animal welfare may not be “compatible”.
“The greatest threat to farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit is UK farmers competing against cheap, imported food from countries that produce to lower standards,” says the report. “Therefore, government’s wish for the UK to become a global leader in free trade is not necessarily compatible with its desire to maintain high animal welfare standards.”
A spokesperson for prime minister Theresa May told The Guardian that allowing US products such as chicken washed with chlorine would not be ruled out in a trade deal.
But the House of Lords report says UK farmers could be undermined by imports of cheap meat and milk produced to low welfare standards.
“If that happens British farmers are likely to oppose any improvements in animal welfare and may press for existing standards to be weakened,” it adds. “Therefore, when negotiating new trade agreements – with the EU, US or others – it is vital that the UK insists on the inclusion of a clause permitting it to require imports to meet UK standards.”
Mr Fox has been in the US meeting trade representatives to discuss potential trade deals.
Mr Hookham said that even if the UK lowered animal welfare standards to accommodate those of other countries, it could put an agreement with the EU in peril.
He said: “The EU would likely need significant reassurances that meat Britain was purchasing from the US wasn’t being brought into contact with and contaminating meat destined for the EU.”