The government's acknowledgement of the importance of frictionless trade in food and drinks in its Brexit White Paper, published today, has been welcomed.
The paper proposes a common rulebook for the import of goods, including agri-food, with a continued commitment to all relevant EU rules. The news is expected to be a relief to operators, with 70% of the UK's food imports coming from the EU.
The white paper does not provide extensive detail on how a future immigration policy may impact the industry. The government has repeated its commitment to allow free movement until the end of the transition period in December 2020 and to give all those who arrive in the UK up to that point the right to apply for settled status.
The government outlines plans for a "new framework that respects the UK's control of its borders, enabling UK and EU citizens to continue to travel to each other's countries and businesses and professionals to provide services, and to help students and young people to enjoy the opportunities and experiences available".
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "We are pleased that the government has recognised the value of the food and drink sector. We are also pleased that there appears to be no major deviation from previously stated positions, particularly the ability of EU citizens to be able to work in the UK.
"UKHospitality will continue to be in near-constant dialogue with the government, to promote the interests of the hospitality sector and ensure that businesses are not disadvantaged by Brexit. We also await the forthcoming report by the Migration Advisory Committee and will be liaising with the MAC to ensure that the sector has access to the talent it needs."
Ian Wright CBE, Food and Drink Federation chief executive, said: "The UK Government is right to make no-friction trade with our most important trading partner its number one Brexit priority; it is extremely encouraging that the White Paper seeks to do so. Our food and drink manufacturers rely upon integrated supply chains, with ingredients and finished products crossing UK and EU borders frequently - nowhere more so than to and from the Republic of Ireland."
Wright added: "We also need to understand much more about how the common rulebook will work in practice. Businesses and consumers urgently need clarity and confidence in the process for both following and deviating from EU rules. It is welcome that the UK will seek to participate and influence EU technical committees and have access to RASFF, but many questions still remain around our valued relationship with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
"The devil is in the detail. FDF will insist that the proposals support the competitiveness of the UK's largest manufacturing sector and enable us to continue to deliver a fantastic range of food and drink to shoppers all year round."