Brexit talks stall as UK resists EU demands on fair competition

Negotiations between the UK and the EU on their post-Brexit future relationship have become deadlocked, negotiators admitted on Friday, prompting calls for both sides to change approach ahead of a crucial summit in June. Read more: Brexit talks stall as UK resists EU demands on fair competition

Brexit talks stall as UK resists EU demands on fair competition

Negotiations between the UK and the EU on their post-Brexit future relationship have become deadlocked, negotiators admitted on Friday, prompting calls for both sides to change approach ahead of a crucial summit in June.

At the end of the third round of talks between Brussels and the UK, David Frost, Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator, said discussions had stalled because of disagreements over the EU’s demands on the so-called level playing field. The bleak assessment was shared by his EU counterpart Michel Barnier who said the two sides risked reaching a “stalemate”.

The chief negotiators’ comments underlined that, with only one scheduled negotiating round left before the EU and UK take stock in June, the two sides have little progress to show for their efforts and remain deeply divided.

Boris Johnson has previously threatened to walk away from the negotiations if insufficient progress has been made by next month’s high-level talks between the prime minister and EU institutional leaders. Britain has mooted the alternative of an “Australia-style” deal — a relationship where both sides trade on basic World Trade Organization terms, similar to a no-deal Brexit.

Following a week of talks conducted by video conference, the major stumbling block is over the EU demands requiring the UK to apply similar standards to the EU on areas such as the environment and labour law even after Britain’s standstill transition period expires at the end of this year. Mr Frost attacked the EU’s attitude and accused the bloc of being unreasonable.

“We made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues between us,” Mr Frost said, adding it was “hard to understand why the EU insists on an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement”.

“[It would] bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes, in a way that is unprecedented in free trade agreements,” he added.

Mr Barnier responded by accusing Britain of seeking to continue to reap the benefits of the single market while escaping its rules, and of a lack of realism.

“Why should we help British businesses to provide their services in Europe when we would have no guarantee that our businesses would get fair treatment in the UK?” Mr Barnier said.

“We are not going to bargain away our European values to the benefit of the British economy. Economic and trade fair play is not for sale. It is not a nice to have, it is a must have.”

On the other vexed issue of fishing rights, Mr Frost said both sides were no closer to an agreement.

“The EU continues to insist on fisheries arrangements and access to UK fishing waters in a way that is incompatible with our future status as an independent coastal state,” he added. Mr Frost described the EU’s proposals as “manifestly unbalanced and against the interests of the UK fishing industry”.

He added: “We very much need a change in EU approach for the next round” of talks, which are due to begin on June 1 — the last before the summit of EU leaders and Mr Johnson later in the month. Mr Frost also announced that the UK would publish its draft legal texts of a trade deal next week.

Mr Barnier was more positive on fish, saying that both sides were moving from “maximalist” positions in order to “look at the [fishing] quotas species by species”.

On the general state of the talks, he said: “The UK will have to become more realistic, it will have to move beyond its lack of understanding, it will have to change its strategy.”

If a deal cannot be struck, the Johnson government has repeatedly insisted it will not seek an extension and will leave the EU’s single market and customs union with no trade deal on December 31.

EU officials insist that a deal must be struck by October to be ratified in time, leaving barely seven months for the future-relationship talks, which cover everything from freight to fighting terrorism.

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Brexit talks stall as UK resists EU demands on fair competition

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British urged to binge on strawberries as cancelled events create glut

Farmers have called on the British public to binge on strawberries, after the cancellation of events such as the Wimbledon tennis championships raised fears of a looming berry glut.  Read more: British urged to binge on strawberries as cancelled events create glut

British urged to binge on strawberries as cancelled events create glut

Farmers have called on the British public to binge on strawberries, after the cancellation of events such as the Wimbledon tennis championships raised fears of a looming berry glut.

As farmers gear up for peak strawberry picking season in June and July, they expect the lack of outdoor events, weddings and mass gatherings to cut demand for UK-grown berries.

British Summer Fruits, a trade body, said it would double its marketing and public relations spend in 2020 to “make sure we have fresh British berries in front of mind for customers”.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, said she was in discussions with the UK government about the potential oversupply of homegrown foods, such as strawberries.

“It’s not just Wimbledon, it’s all the big sporting events. Formula One, cricket Test matches, football, they are huge outside events and all are cancelled,” she said. “For caterers and the wholesale trade, that market has just gone.”

She plans to pull together a coalition of “food and farming champions” to back her campaign.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said it was working with industry to “find alternative routes for fruit to get into the supply chain” and that it would monitor the situation “to assess whether further intervention is required to support growers”.

The UK produced 132,000 tonnes of strawberries in 2018, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization — up by a quarter from a decade earlier. Raspberry production was 15,000 tonnes. In a normal year the country also imports additional berries.

Wimbledon had been due to begin on June 29. At last year’s event, tennis fans scoffed 33 tonnes of strawberries.

Nick Marston, chair of British Summer Fruits, said: “It’s about those lost events — we are encouraging people to get out in their gardens, give fresh berries to their children and knock a tennis ball around as they might do anyway during Wimbledon.”

The closure of restaurants and cafés has already led to gluts in milk and dairy products. For highly-perishable strawberries, there is even greater urgency.

Farmers are also struggling with recruitment after coronavirus prevented travel by many of the eastern European workers who normally travel to pick the crop.

Elaine Clarke of Manor Farm Fruits in Staffordshire said she would normally send about 10 per cent of her crop to catering suppliers, while she was also concerned social distancing measures might damp retail demand.

“Fruit is quite an emotive purchase, with families going around shopping together, ‘Let’s have some strawberries’ . . . With the restrictions in supermarkets it’s quite a different way of shopping now,” she said.

Ms Clarke, who sells 1m punnets into supermarkets each year, has now set up a “strawberry drive-through” at her farm enabling customers to buy without leaving their cars.

Marion Regan of Hugh Lowe Farms in Kent, which supplies Wimbledon, told the Oxford Farming Conference podcast last month that “during those two weeks it’s really important for us”. She added that the farm was now “committed to that crop”.

“I’m hoping that everyone will think ‘Gosh, it’s high summer, let’s eat plenty of strawberries’ and we will be able to find other outlets for it,” Ms Regan said, adding that she had also spoken with food banks about donating berries.

Social distancing measures had also pushed up farmers’ costs, said Mr Marston.

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British urged to binge on strawberries as cancelled events create glut

Source : Business Matters More   

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