Brexit: Deas says ‘nothing has been agreed on fishing’
Thierry Pouch, chief economist of the French Chambers of Agriculture, said French farmers and fishermen are now “deeply concerned” over the French President’s recent efforts to push the EU towards a no-deal outcome over issues around fishing and a “level playing field” on trade rules. He warned the ultimatum provided by Mr Macron, mooted by France’s Europe minister Clément Beaune, could have a devastating impact on hard-fought EU unity at such a critical moment for the bloc.
Mr Pouch told The Daily Telegraph: “Each country reacts in its own interests as always but I get the impression that France has overstepped the mark by threatening a possible veto because that goes against the strategy of showing a united front among the 27 towards London.
“So Macron is playing a risky game.
“France’s intransigence echoes the behaviour of other EU member states on other issues – I’m referring to Poland and Hungary on the economic recovery plan.”
A new EU civil war has broken out after Hungary and Poland have blocked Brussels’ upcoming £1.6nillion budget over seven years and the huge coronavirus recovery package, which contains clauses linking funding to respect for the Rule of Law.
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Mr Pouch explained: “France is doing likewise on Brexit.
“I think it is very dangerous for the EU to have so many states that are not pulling in the same direction.”
France has strongly denied it is acting in its own interests with renewed threats to veto a Brexit trade deal if its demands on fishing rights and the level playing field are not adhered to.
Mr Beaune has admitted while it would be “naive to deny” there were “different concerns” within EU member states, the mandate from chief negotiator Michel Barnier is detailed and “we are sticking with it”.
He added: “The main players have all realigned behind the same position. There is unity on the message and on the strategy.”
France’s Europe minister also insisted German Chancellor Angela Merkel “also defends our demands”.
Mr Beaune said: “She knows the European market well enough to guess how the German economy would suffer from a bad agreement. The UK’s gamble on a split in the EU has failed.”
The row over a possible veto of a Brexit trade deal with the UK comes as negotiations continue to stuck at a stalemate around fishing rights, rules for fair trade and an enforcement mechanism.
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Mr Pouch questioned whether it was right France was demanding the UK closely align itself with EU rules and environmental and social standards in order to export to the bloc, warning this “fixation” is a “mistake”.
He said: “I find it hard to understand why France is so fixated on competition rules.
“Can we accept that the UK lowers social norms to export? Paris refuses the idea but I’m not sure it is worth getting so fixated about as we have sufficient strengths to win market share in the UK and get over this.
“So I think it’s a mistake. Barnier is trying to referee this but is having an incredibly hard time.”
Mr Pouch also warned the devastating impact a no-deal Brexit could inflict on France.
He said: “If we lose some of our €2bn trade surplus to the UK on food products, it will be hard to conquer new EU markets as they will be flooded.
“That is what happened when we slapped an embargo on Russia in 2014.”
The chief economist of the French Chambers of Agriculture warned three regions in France are particularly worried about the effects a no-deal outcome with the UK would have on exports alcoholic beverages, dairy products, fruit and vegetables and biscuits and bakery.
The Hauts-de-France region in the north of the country is worried about a loss of export on cereals animal feed and grain; the Grand Est region in northeastern France is “extremely concerned” about losing market share on bakery products; while the Bordeaux region is “very worried about wine”.
The French Chambers of Agriculture believes customs tariffs on European and French dairy products being exported to the UK could surge by as much as 40 percent, with Mr Pouch also warning: “These could reach 80-100 per cent on some products, such as cheese.”
He also issued a stern warning to the UK, warning the British could be hit by a “double whammy” in the event of a no deal that would see prices skyrocket because of new customs tariffs on products and lower purchasing power due to the value of the pound falling against the euro.
But he also warned: “In that case, British consumers could turn away from European products, principally French, and buy elsewhere.
“It’s not by chance that the UK recently signed a deal with Japan and Canada.”
“It’s in all our interests to avoid damaging trade relations, for the EU, Macron and the British. Without a deal, the UK with its €30 billion trade deficit in food and agriculture products, could be heading for food shortages in the short-term.
“But avoiding a no deal is in our interests too.”
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