Un­cer­tainty to dom­i­nate the 2017 farming agenda

The Oban Times - - Farming - By Scott Walker, NFU Scot­land chief ex­ec­u­tive

THE First Min­is­ter of Scot­land, Ni­cola Stur­geon, has re­cently set out her pro­pos­als for Scot­land’s fu­ture re­la­tions with Europe af­ter Brexit.

The doc­u­ment lays out the case for the UK, as a whole, to re­main within the Euro­pean sin­gle mar­ket (ESM) and within the EU Cus­toms Union.

Should the rest of the UK not want to be in the ESM and the EU Cus­toms Union, then dif­fer­en­ti­ated ar­range­ments must be ne­go­ti­ated by the UK with Europe to al­low Scot­land to re­main in the ESM and the EU Cus­toms Union.

Ev­ery­thing about Brexit is com­pli­cated and th­ese pro­pos­als, in the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s own words, are tech­ni­cally and po­lit­i­cally chal­leng­ing. They will re­quire flex­i­bil­ity, prag­ma­tism and sup­port on the part of the UK govern­ment and, in due course, our Euro­pean part­ners.

Al­ready many com­men­ta­tors are say­ing that what the Scot­tish Govern­ment is propos­ing is un­de­liv­er­able.

But Brexit means we are in un­prece­dented times. There is no par­al­lel to the ne­go­ti­a­tions that will take place over the next cou­ple of years be­tween the UK and Europe.

At the op­po­site end of the spec­trum to Scot­tish Govern­ment’s wishlist is for the UK to leave the ESM and the EU Cus­toms Union al­to­gether and de­velop new trading re­la­tion­ships with coun­tries around the world. The terms ‘tech­ni­cally and po­lit­i­cally chal­leng­ing’ could equally ap­ply to such talks.

So, what does all this mean for Scot­tish agri­cul­ture and Scot­land’s farm­ers and crofters?

Firstly, if the UK stays in the ESM and the EU Cus­toms Union, then the UK won’t be able to ne­go­ti­ate its own trade deals with other parts of the world. Whether this is good or bad de­pends upon your view on the ca­pa­bil­ity of the UK to ne­go­ti­ate th­ese deals and whether th­ese deals would be bet­ter than any­thing that can be ne­go­ti­ated by the EU.

Se­condly, if (and it is a big if) the UK was will­ing and able to ne­go­ti­ate dif­fer­en­ti­ated ar­range­ments for Scot­land with the EU, what would be the prac­ti­cal im­pli­ca­tions? How would goods moved through the UK and then on into Europe be dealt with? Would the ad­min­is­tra­tive ar­range­ments needed in the UK to ac­com­mo­date such an ar­range­ment be sim­ple and easy or would they be so cum­ber­some and bur­den­some that they would negate the dif­fer­en­ti­ated ar­range­ments ne­go­ti­ated for Scot­land with the EU?

And, thirdly, there is now a clear bat­tle go­ing on with re­gard to agri­cul­tural pol­icy and where the power to make de­ci­sions should re­side.

On one side is the Scot­tish Govern­ment say­ing that those pow­ers to do with agri­cul­tural pol­icy that will be ‘repa­tri­ated’ to the UK from Brus­sels must be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment.

On the other side is the UK govern­ment, which has de­signs on hav­ing a sin­gle UK agri­cul­tural pol­icy with re­gional flex­i­bil­ity.

The big ques­tion is what will this mean for the Scot­tish sec­tor and, of course, what money will go along with th­ese pow­ers?

At the end of the day, fund­ing will be crit­i­cal. Pow­ers with­out an ap­pro­pri­ate level of fund­ing of­fers lit­tle ben­e­fit. Of course, a UK agri­cul­tural pol­icy with money but not the flex­i­bil­ity that we re­quire to sup­port pro­duc­tive agri­cul­ture in Scot­land would also be use­less. So, have we got any more clar­ity from the First Min­is­ter’s an­nounce­ment? The an­swer is not yet. What we do have is an in­ter­est­ing set of pro­pos­als that need to be care­fully con­sid­ered and their ram­i­fi­ca­tions thought through.

Our AGM in Fe­bru­ary 2017 will of­fer the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss th­ese is­sues with our mem­bers and to gauge their views and opin­ions. In the mean­time, there is a lot for our board of di­rec­tors to mull over and much to be dis­cussed with the UK and Scot­tish Gov­ern­ments in the weeks ahead.

NFUS chief ex­ec­u­tive Scott Walker says there are chal­leng­ing times ahead.

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