Academic lays out repercussions of Brexit for EU agri-food R&D

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

Academic lays out repercussions of Brexit for EU agri-food R&D

Related tags: Eu, European union

As the UK is a net contributor to the EU budget, a net importer of agri-food products from the EU, and punches above its weight in research terms, its withdrawal would have “broadly negative effects” for the EU farm and food sector, argues a leading agriculture policy professor.

The most immediate impact, of course, would be the loss of the UK's net-contribution to the EU budget which has averaged €6bn per annum and been as high as €10bn, said Alan Matthews​, professor in the Department of Economics at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in Ireland

The TCD academic and a raft of other experts, writing in EuroChoices,​ a Wiley journal, attempt to grapple with the uncertainties posed by Brexit for the UK and for the EU agri food sector as a whole. 

The UK government has negotiated concessions from fellow EU members with regard to a number of concerns it has raised. As a result of this agreement, it has decided to put the question of continued membership of the EU to UK voters on 23 June.

Matthews said there could be considerable impact from Brexit on European food and agricultural research efforts. 

The UK has been a significant player in the European Research Area, which enables researchers to work and co-operate freely across borders, in particular in agri-food research programs.

Citing a Financial Times (FT)​ editorial of May 30, Matthews said the UK’s universities and research labs are highly productive by almost any measure: With 4% of the world’s scientists, the UK produces almost 16% of the most cited research papers.

NiroDesign research istock
With 4% of the world’s scientists, the UK produces almost 16% of the most cited research papers. Image credit: © istock.com/NiroDesign

“Having the UK in the EU allows EU science to benefit from this hotbed of research through collaboration in Horizon 2020 programs. Brexit would most likely make such collaboration more difficult, which would be a loss to European science.

“I think the same arguments hold for agricultural and life sciences research as for science in general, perhaps even more so​,” he told FeedNavigator.

He acknowledged UK science has also benefited from EU funding which is why, according to the FT editorial, 83% of UK scientists want to remain in the EU. 

EU risk management implications

Another defining characteristic of UK policy has been that risk management should be based on robust science and evidence, argued Matthews. This has led the UK at times to question risk management decisions at EU level as being unduly risk averse leading to disproportionate legislation, he said.

“On the regulatory issue, the EU Council takes decisions by qualified majority vote when necessary. While the UK has certainly pushed for stronger regulation in some areas in the EU such as animal welfare, in the agriculture area it tends to take issue with the more precautionary-based approach to regulation favored by most other member states [the UK is in favor of the renewal of the authorization of glyphosate, for example, whereas Germany, France, and Italy are not],”​ said Matthews.

The precautionary principle is one of the factors to be taken into account when regulating for risk within the EU, and following a potential Brexit it may be given even greater weight in regulatory decision-making, he said.

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Could other countries follow suit? Image credit: © istock.com/AlexLMX

A UK withdrawal could also tempt other countries to follow, leaving the EU and its agricultural policy to face a very different future, added the Trinity College professor.

Income and price volatility 

An exit from the EU could leave UK farmers facing a number of additional challenges to those they are already coping with in terms of income and price volatility, wrote Wyn Grant​, Professor, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, UK.

“It is difficult to predict the consequences of Brexit for agriculture with any precision, given the absence of contingency plans by the UK Government and the uncertainties that would follow a vote to leave. However, it is difficult to see that they would, on balance, be advantageous,” ​he noted.

And Grant said Brexit would not eliminate many of “the structural and competitive challenges facing UK and other European farmers such as relationships with supermarkets and processors, the scale of operations and the Russian import ban.

Moreover, he said, CAP Pillar 1 farm subsidies would be placed in jeopardy and there would not be a substantial reduction in the level of regulation.

WTO obligations

Alan Swinbank, Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Reading, UK, wrote​ that perhaps the most likely outcome of a Brexit would be that the farm lobby would seek to preserve the status quo​, with UK-funded policies replacing existing CAP support provisions. “

joxxxxjo WTO trade istock
What about WTO obligations post Brexit? Image credit: © istock.com/joxxxxjo

He said environmentalists would no doubt insist on no weakening of existing environmental regulations that are often based on EU provisions, while policymakers would not have the luxury of designing a policy from scratch.

“As a result of contracts entered into under the CAP's Rural Development Regulation, many land-based businesses would have ongoing obligations and rights, which would extend into the future…

“In addition to these ongoing funding commitments, policymakers would face other constraints including international obligations stemming from the UK's continued membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and, potentially, a trade agreement with the EU; budget limits; and political pressures exercised by the UK's former EU partners and the devolved administrations…”

And, if not constrained by political concerns, it seems likely that the UK Treasury's first instinct would be to spend less on agricultural support, under any successor regime, than the EU and UK together currently spend in the UK, added Swinbank.

Source: EuroChoices

Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1111/1746-692X.12125

Title: Brexit and the Agri-food Sector

Authors: Davis, J. (2016),

Related topics: Regulation

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