Diverging from European food standards risks knocking quality and hampering choice on supermarket shelves, ministers have been told.
An industry report has warned that the UK should give “careful thought” to any move away from the European Union rulebook after leaving the bloc. It calls for “time to adapt” to any changes imposed by trade deals.
Whitehall negotiators must strike a balance between the demands of countries such as the United States and the Brexit agreement with the EU, which, the report notes, “is by an overwhelming margin both our largest market and our largest supplier”.
The three government advisory groups behind the report have welcomed the “regulatory autonomy” provided by Brexit. They warn, however, that divergence from EU rules could disrupt supply chains.
“Careful thought should be given to the benefits and costs of choosing to move away from these technical standards,” the report says. “Erosion of existing integrated supply chains risks damaging our ability to develop and compete in other markets in future and to deliver the choice and quality UK consumers and shoppers demand.”
Sajid Javid, the chancellor, reassured business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week that Britain would not diverge from EU regulations “just for the sake of it”.
Ian Wright, chairman of the Food and Drink Roundtable, said that the sectors were “absolutely committed” to helping the government to develop “more detailed plans and practical solutions” during the Brexit process. It has produced the report in conjunction with the Brexit Livestock Group and Brexit Arable Group.
Non-tariff barriers to trade pose a “serious impediment” to food and drink freight, the report says.
While the government has made clear that it intends to move away from EU regulations in some areas, details remain scarce. Ministers such as Theresa Villiers, the environment secretary, have insisted that certain EU bans — such as those on chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef — will be maintained by Britain.
Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, told the BBC at the weekend that Downing Street was targeting a “zero-tariff, zero-quota” free trade agreement with the EU.