The Brexit deadline is fast approaching. The European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) have less than ten weeks to reach a deal. Just last Friday, Boris Johnson said the negotiations are pointless. Talks had resumed on Thursday evening. "Fortunately, the negotiators have not thrown in the towel yet," says Marc Evrard.
Marc is the Commercial Director of the Belgische Fruitveiling, in Belgium. "I hope an agreement will eventually be reached. I think the entire fruit and vegetable sector agrees with me. But it hasn't got that far yet. Everyone has questions. The involved parties are trying to prepare as well as they can for different possible scenarios."
“Most EU countries have great, decades-long, business relationships with the UK. Transactions are handled smoothly, and trade flows are organized very efficiently. They haven't yet made a deal. We can, however, assume the outcome of the negotiations will probably be less favorable than the current situation. That's for the fruit and vegetable sector. It's highly likely that tariffs, other cost items, and possibly quotas will be added," says Marc.
"Transport times will increase, resulting in risks of congestion. There will be no added value for either the UK or the EU. None of the companies are looking forward to this. However, it, unfortunately, seems inevitable. What we see now is a consequence of choices. Those making these years ago might not have properly assessed all the possible repercussions."
It isn't only companies in Europe that are preparing for a hard or soft Brexit. "In the UK, too, businesses are trying to estimate what the outcome will be. They're also preparing as well as they can. Our partners and clients are doing what they can. But as long as nothing is concrete yet, it's just a matter of waiting," says Evrard.
"The Belgische Fruitveiling and many others in the sector have enough experience in exporting products to countries outside the European Union. This is technically possible. It does, however, involve additional costs. Not only for the exporter but for the buyer too."
“I don't anticipate any major issues for pears, regardless of the scenario. I expect the UK will continue demanding pears. That's because the country isn't entirely self-sufficient. That is, too, largely the case with cherries and strawberries, for example. That's the essence of agriculture - it crosses borders. And it's important to find a nice balance between supply and demand," says Marc.
"The weather and climatic conditions are, of course, significant challenges. These can cause shortages and oversupply. But, ultimately, countries can complement each other nicely. We've also been aware for years that, as a cooperative, we have to spread our risks. Currently, eight to ten percent of our Belgian pears cross the Channel. That's a significant proportion, but we aren't completely dependent on that country."
“Stay calm and carry on”
“Our sector must try and prepare itself as well as possible. Many companies have a Plan B for when Brexit happens. 'Stay calm and carry on' is, I think, the best advice. The sector faces numerous issues besides Brexit. We have to deal with these in the coming years. There's Covid-19 and the new 'Green Deal' being worked on in the EU. Then there are the discussions about packaging materials and waste management. These are just a few examples. There are more challenges than seven months ago," Marc concludes.