Protecting farmers' ability to co-operate

We're lobbying to ensure Brexit legislation for agriculture provides both 'day one continuity' for co-operatives and a basis for enhanced co-operation in future policy.

This page summarizes how important elements of the existing competition exemptions for agricultural co-operation are to be retained in UK law after Brexit. It also explains how interventions by Co-operatives UK have helped to deliver this outcome.

Key positives:

  • multi-sector farmer co-operatives will not be excluded out of hand by the high-level design of the new producer organisation (PO) and association of producer organisation (APO) frameworks
  • a broad range of farmer co-operatives will still benefit from competition exemptions without having to be recognised as POs, APOs or inter-branch organisations (IBOs)
  • at least some of the UK’s competition exemptions will still be grounded in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) objectives as set out in TFEU39

However:

  • The new legislative arrangement is not as clear, cohesive or secure as we would have liked
  • Some key exemptions are contained in secondary legislation, rather than primary legislation, which can at least in part be varied or revoked without an Act of Parliament 
  • The Farming Minister has made a statement in the Commons that suggests at least some of these ‘continuity measures’ have a short shelf life in government’s plans

Our impact

  • Our advocacy with members encouraged Defra to set out a dynamic role for farmer co-operation in its Policy Statement, including a commitment to retain existing competition exemptions 

  • Our intervention encouraged Defra to amend the Agriculture Bill in Committee Stage, to ensure a wider range of co-operatives can be eligible for future recognition as POs and APOs

  • Following our intervention, Defra has added provisions to statutory instruments that domesticate crucial parts of the CMO Regulation (Article 209) that provide competition exemptions for all types of co-operative arrangement, not just POs, APOs and IBOs, covering inputs and production as well as outputs, and grounding these exemptions in the CAP objectives, in UK law, even after Brexit​

Looking forward

To avoid unnecessary confusion, we have asked Defra to provide a clear summary of the legislative measures it has taken to retain existing competition exemptions.

We will now also request clarification on whether the domestication of CMO Article 209 can be varied or revoked by further secondary legislation, other than under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. And we will ask for assurance that there are no plans to revoke CMO Article 209 once the new PO, APO and IBO frameworks are in place.

Defra has assured us that it will consult openly and thoroughly on the detail of the new PO, APO and IBO frameworks before laying any secondary legislation in Parliament. This is really welcome and the co-operative sector will need to be ready to contribute to this process.

We have suggested that Defra and the CMA create some accessible guidance for farmers and their supply chain partners on how the competition exemptions will operate post-Brexit.

Download Briefing

Contact

If you have any questions please contact our policy officer, James Wright:

e: [email protected]

t: 0161 214 1775