* UK seeks to boost non-EU agricultural exports
* NFU president says access to single market is top priority
By Nigel Hunt
OXFORD, England, Jan 4 Britain's farmers said on
Wednesday their main concerns as the nation prepares to leave
the European Union are how much access they will have to the
EU's single market and its skilled farm workers.
Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union,
told Reuters at the annual Oxford Farming Conference, that
tariff-free access to the single market "has got to be the top
"The number two priority is access to competent labour for
seasonal and permanent work on farms," he said.
The European Union represents the most important export
market for many agricultural commodities.
Britain exported 2.86 million tonnes of wheat in the 2015/16
season, for example, of which 80 percent was shipped to the EU.
Farming and environment minister Andrea Leadsom sought to
reassure the industry: "It is our absolute and clear intention
to maintain as low tariffs as possible, zero tariffs where we
can, and we will be negotiating the best possible deal for UK
farmers and food producers."
Leadsom also said she knew how important seasonal labour
from the EU was to farm businesses in Britain.
"Access of labour is very much part, an important part, of
our current discussions and we're committed to working with you
to make sure you have the right people with the right skills,"
Leadsom said there was scope to increase agricultural
exports to countries outside the EU including China, India and
the United Arab Emirates.
"Our core strength is our world-leading position in animal
welfare, food safety and food traceability," she said.
She said leaving the EU would make it possible to develop an
agricultural policy designed specifically for Britain rather
than the entire EU.
"In leaving the EU, we've been handed a once in a generation
opportunity to take Britain forward; a real opportunity to
thrive," she said.
"We can design, from first principles, an agricultural
system that works for us."
Leadsom said she would be launching a major consultation on
future UK agricultural policy in the near future.
"We've got this great opportunity to pull together a policy
which is fit for purpose in the UK. That is a challenge for all
of us," NFU president Raymond said.
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)