NFU Scotland believes that for farm businesses the overall benefits of staying in the European Union (EU) currently outweigh any advantages they would gain from leaving.
Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee, Andrew McCornick, NFU Scotland’s vice-president set out the Union’s position on EU membership.
A referendum on European membership before the end of 2017 will be the fifth time in as many years Scottish citizens have voted at the ballot box.
Written evidence provided to the Committee states that conditions under which Scottish farmers would operate in the event of an EU exit are unknown, and until clarity can be given on the terms of access to the European Market, the terms of access to overseas markets and the level of domestic agricultural support, the NFUS has taken the stance that the UK should remain part of the EU.
Andrew McCornick commented: “Put simply, the interests of agriculture in Europe are clear – farmers would prefer to farm without the financial support they receive from the EU, but the reality is that most farms don’t make enough from the market for this to be possible.
“The role of direct support in overall farm incomes is complex but invaluable. Any drop in, or removal of, direct support could lead to a significant number of businesses hitting barriers and will remove the ‘multiplier’ effect of the farmers’ pound, to the detriment of the food sector and the wider rural economy.
“A further issue is access to the European single market, which allows tariff-free trade amongst all member states. The EU’s negotiating position has allowed trade agreements to be opened with some 50 international partners in recent years. This is of great importance to Scotland’s food and drink industry, which continues to exceed targets and had an export value of £5.1 billion in 2014.
“Whilst issues within domestic supply chains are currently hindering primary producers’ ability to receive an equitable share of the retail price, it is vital we continue to build on the prominence of Scottish food and drink in key export markets both in and outside of the EU, and indeed enhance trade with our neighbours in the rest of the UK.
“For farmers to vote to leave the EU, they need to know what the trading arrangements with the rest of Europe would be – would Scotland be able to continue to trade tariff-free with Europe or would our lamb, beef and other key farm exports face a tariff barrier? Would access to important overseas markets remain or would the UK have to start over again in negotiations?
“Access to markets is vital and clarity is required on what this would look like should the vote be to leave the EU.”