British farmers and food producers must decide whether to proceed with shipments next week because exports could face tariffs if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, a farming leader said on Tuesday.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 but Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said decisions needed to be taken by farmers as soon as next week.
"Next week, ships will set sail from Britain with cargo on board - including British food exports — which will arrive at their destinations after March 29," she told the NFU's annual conference.
"So farmers and food producers need to make decisions now whether to load British produce onto ships which will set sail from British ports on February 28 — next Thursday."
Farming sources said shipments of frozen meat, for example, to destinations in the Far East took around one month. Some destinations in that region have trade deals with the EU which would not apply to Britain under a no-deal scenario, leaving shipments facing tariffs or other trade barriers.
Batters said that high tariffs in case of a no-deal Brexit for exports to the EU could also mean there was effectively no market for four and a half million lambs with many farmers reliant on trade with the EU.
Apart from the threat of tariffs hanging over the industry, sectors such as fruit and flowers did not know whether they would have access to seasonal migrant workers, she added.
"It is absolutely shocking that farmers — and wider British businesses — are in this position. I make no apology for saying that leaving the EU without a deal would be a catastrophe for British farming," she said.
"A no-deal Brexit could decimate those farms up and down Britain, from our Uplands to the Welsh mountains, to the rolling hills and the English lowlands," she said.