Agriculture, food and fisheries products

There is extensive trade between the UK and the EU in agriculture (food, feed, and drink) products and the EU is the UK’s single largest trade partner.7 70 percent of UK agri-food imports came from the EU in 2017. Food and drink manufacturing is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing £27.8 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2017.9 Much like manufactured goods, the agri-food sector relies on complex international supply chains.

Under the existing constitutional settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each devolved administration and legislature generally has the competence to make its own primary and secondary legislation in relation to agriculture, as well as in related areas such as animal health and welfare, food safety, plant health, and fisheries. The UK Government will work closely with the devolved administrations, who share high ambitions for a sustainable agricultural industry in the UK, as the UK withdraws from the EU, and will ensure future arrangements within the UK work for the whole of the UK.

There are three broad categories of rules that apply to agriculture, food and fisheries products:

  • those that must be checked at the border, including relevant Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) rules, which safeguard human, animal and plant health;
  • those relating to wider food policy, such as marketing rules that determine how agri-food products can be described and labelled, which do not need to be checked at the border; and
  • those relating to domestic production, such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Common Rule Book

The UK’s proposal for a common rulebook on agri-food encompasses those rules that must be checked at the border. The UK and the EU have set the global standard for the protection of human, animal and plant health, and both have set an ambition to maintain high standards in the future.

As for manufactured goods, certainty around a common rulebook is necessary to reassure the UK and the EU that agri-food products in circulation in their respective markets meet the necessary regulatory requirements. This would remove the need to undertake additional regulatory checks at the border – avoiding the need for any physical infrastructure, such as Border Inspection Posts, at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

A common rulebook would also protect integrated supply chains, trade between the UK and the EU, and consumers and biosecurity.

There are wider food policy rules that set marketing and labelling requirements. It is not necessary to check these rules are met at the border, because they do not govern the way in which products are produced, but instead determine how they are presented to consumers. These rules are most effectively enforced on the market, and as such, it is not necessary to incorporate them into the common rulebook.

Indeed there are differences between the Member States currently on aspects of food policy, for example, food labelling. Tailoring the regulatory environment to best suit businesses operating in the local market is better for consumers, businesses and the environment. The UK will tailor its food policy to better reflect business needs, improve value for money and support innovation and creativity.

For these rules, there are existing precedents of equivalence agreements covering testing and approval procedures. For example, the EU has reciprocal equivalence arrangements or agreements for organic production rules and control systems with a number of countries: Canada, Chile, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Tunisia, the US and New Zealand. The UK wants equivalence arrangements on wider food policy rules. The UK has high standards in place on food policy, including areas of UK leadership such as unfair trading practices.

Geographical Indications

Included in the remit of wider food policy rules are the specific protections given to some agri-food products, such as Geographical Indications (GIs). GIs recognise the heritage and provenance of products which have a strong traditional or cultural connection to a particular place. They provide registered products with legal protection against imitation and protect consumers from being misled about the quality or geographical origin of goods. Significant GI-protected products from the UK include Scotch whisky, Scottish farmed salmon, and Welsh beef and lamb.

The UK will be establishing its own GI scheme after exit, consistent with the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). This new UK framework will go beyond the requirements of TRIPS and will provide a clear and simple set of rules on GIs, and continuous protection for UK GIs in the UK. The scheme will be open to new applications, from both UK and non-UK applicants, from the day it enters into force.


The UK will be leaving the CFP and CAP: these and other areas of domestic production are not relevant to the UK’s and the EU’s trading relationship, and so would not be captured by the common rulebook or any form of regulatory equivalence. The EU’s view at the WTO is that direct payments under CAP are not market distorting – and the EU has deep relationships on fisheries with the other North Sea countries on the basis of annual negotiations.

The UK will be free to design agricultural support policies that deliver the outcomes most relevant to its market, within the confines of WTO rules. The UK has been clear that it will seek to  improve agricultural productivity and deliver improved environmental outcomes through its replacement for CAP.

Similarly, on the CFP, the UK will be an independent coastal state, able to control access to its waters and the allocation of fishing opportunities. The UK’s proposals for fisheries are covered in other sections.

By being outside the CAP, and having a common rulebook that only applies to rules that must be checked at the border, the UK would be able to have control over new future subsidy arrangements, control over market surveillance of domestic policy arrangements, an ability to change tariffs and quotas in the future, and the freedom to apply higher animal welfare standards that would not have a bearing on the functioning of the free trade area for goods – such as welfare in transport and the treatment of live animal exports.

In acknowledging the specific situation in respect of Northern Ireland and Ireland, all North-South cooperation on agriculture flowing from the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement has been mapped in detail through the joint mapping exercise conducted in Phase 1 and will be protected in full. Northern Ireland and Ireland form a single epidemiological unit.

The UK is fully committed to ensuring that the Northern Ireland Executive and North-South Ministerial Council can, through agreement, continue to pursue specific initiatives, such as the All Ireland Animal Health and Welfare Strategy.

Fishing opportunities

The seas that surround the UK are an important part of its history, economy, and way  of life. The commercial fishing industry and wider seafood sector are integral to coastal communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

On leaving the EU, the UK will become an independent coastal state under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As a result, the UK will control access to fish in its waters, both in territorial seas and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

While the UK will be leaving the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the UK is committed to working closely with the Member States and other coastal states to ensure sustainable management of shared stocks and the wider marine environment.

As a result, the UK, therefore, proposes to:

  • agree on a mechanism for annual negotiations on access to waters and fishing opportunities; and
  • promote sustainable fisheries to meet international commitments such as sustainable development goals.

In pursuing this agreement, the Government will continue working closely with the devolved administrations, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. During international fisheries negotiations, the UK delegation will include representatives from each administration of the UK, as is the case now.

Access to markets for fish and fish products is dealt with separately. This approach is consistent with international fisheries agreements and with EU-third  country precedents.

Access to waters and fishing opportunities

At present, under the CFP’s principle of ‘Relative Stability’, the UK receives a fixed share of fishing opportunities based on historical fishing patterns in 1973-1978. On average, between 2012 and 2016, UK vessels landed approximately 90,000 tonnes103 of fish each year caught in other Member States’ waters, and other Member States’ vessels caught in the region of 760,000 tonnes104 of fish each year in UK waters.

As an independent coastal state, the UK will have control over access to its waters from the end of the implementation period. Any decisions about giving access to UK waters for vessels from the EU or any other coastal states will be a matter for negotiation.

The UK, the EU, and coastal states should agree to annual negotiations on access rights and fishing opportunities for UK, EU and coastal state fleets. This could include multi-annual agreements for appropriate stocks.

The UK will seek to move from relative stability towards a more scientific method for informing future Total Allowable Catch (TAC) shares. Further, non-UK registered vessels granted access to fish in UK waters would also need to meet the same requirements as UK fleets across all UK fishing zones, including adherence to sustainable practices.

The UK has long championed sustainable fishing and marine conservation and will continue to apply the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) principle. Further to our commitments under United Nations Sustainable Development Goal,  the UK will continue to work with European partners to regulate fishing and to set harvest rates that restore and maintain fish stocks. The UK remains fully committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish.

After the UK leaves the EU, the Government will publish an annual assessment on the state of stocks of interest and our approach to setting fishing opportunities for the year ahead. If particular stocks are becoming depleted, the Government will work with all interested parties to draw up and implement recovery plans.

The Government will work closely with the devolved administrations, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories who are responsible for conservation measures for stocks concentrated in their territorial waters.

This Article draws on the White Paper The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union Presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister July 2018 Cm 9593. UK public sector information is reproduced pursuant to the Open Government Licence  The Legal Materials contain UK public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0. The Licence is available  at (the UK Licence).

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