* NFU seeks free trade with EU, access to farm workers
* UK seeks trade deals with non-EU partners - Leadsom
By Nigel Hunt
BIRMINGHAM, England, Feb 21 Britain's farm
policy is set for a major shake-up when the country leaves the
European Union because the current system is poor value for
money, has too much red tape and provides few incentives to use
the latest technologies, farming and environment minister Andrea
Leadsom said on Tuesday.
Leadsom said she was meeting with the ministers of Britain's
devolved administrations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
- on Thursday and would be holding talks throughout March and
April to hear views on how farm policy should be transformed.
"We have a once in a generation opportunity to transform our
food and farming policies," she told the National Farmers
Union's annual conference.
Britain's vote last year to leave the EU has created
uncertainty about future government support for agriculture,
access to key markets and how the sector will be regulated.
EU farmers receive an annual payment under the Basic Payment
Scheme (BPS). Leadsom said that for some UK farmers this payment
accounted for 70 percent of their bottom line.
The government has guaranteed that these payments will
continue until 2020 but the future beyond then is unclear.
"There is no doubt that there will be support for our vital
food and farming industry after we leave the EU. But I'm not
going to pre-empt the work the government is doing to get the
best possible deal for the UK," she said.
Leadsom said Britain was looking to build new partnerships
and strike the best free trade deals for Britain while noting
that 60 percent of exports go direct to the EU.
"The EU is our most important trading partner, a fact that
won't change when we leave, and a relationship we are determined
to uphold," she said, adding Britain was seeking tariff-free
trade with Europe.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said a trade deal with the EU
was "the first of our vital ingredients for farming's success",
noting Britain exports about three times more food to Belgium
than to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined.
"No one will thank a government for doing bad deals with new
partners quickly, at the expense of keeping longstanding, good
deals alive," he said.
Raymond also said farming in Britain needed access to a
competent and reliable workforce.
"Without a workforce, permanent and seasonal, it wouldn't
matter what a new trade deal looks like, the lights would go out
in our biggest manufacturing sector, food will rot in the fields
and Britain will lose the ability to produce and process its own
food," he said.
Leadsom said the government was aware of the industry's
needs and was looking at the issue.
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt. Editing by Jane Merriman)