Brexit Trade Negotiations Hurt UK Food Trade With EU : The Indicator from Planet Money What has trade with the EU been like for Britons post-Brexit? We answer that question by looking at some of the tastiest indicators around.

A Culinary Tour Of Brexit

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Hey, everyone. It's THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Cardiff Garcia, and I'm joined today by Frank Langfitt, NPR's London correspondent.

Frank, hi.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. It's great to be here, Cardiff.

GARCIA: Great to have you. So, Frank, from what I understand, you are about to take us on a kind of culinary tour of Brexit today. Is that right?

LANGFITT: Yeah, that's right - so quick refresher on Brexit, Cardiff. The U.K. voted to leave the EU to escape red tape in Brussels so they'd be free to cut new free trade deals. This was, like, a number of years ago - 2016. The U.K. finally completely got out of the EU on New Year's Eve, which means different things to different sectors here. But today we're just going to focus on one of the hardest hit. That's food. And specifically, we're going to look at oysters, cheese and wine because what we found is each item tells a different story about the real-world consequences of Brexit so far. So that's our plan. And here's the menu - wine, cheese or oysters. Cardiff, what do you want to start with?

GARCIA: I don't know, Frank. I think I'm in the mood for oysters. Let's start there.

LANGFITT: Good choice. We're surrounded by water here in Britain. So the story of oysters is that when you suddenly face new regulations, doing business is so much harder. And no one is feeling this more than this oyster fishermen that I met. His name is Jonathan Bailey.

JONATHAN BAILEY: Very wet - this isn't leaks (ph). This is just rainwater.

LANGFITT: It's just rainwater.

BAILEY: Yeah. I'll get some of it out.

LANGFITT: Jonathan harvests oysters on a river in the southwest of England. And on the day that I met him, it was raining, so we were bailing out his rowboat.


GARCIA: Yeah. And I'm assuming, Frank, that Jonathan exports his oysters to Europe, and that's why you're talking to him. So why don't you tell us how that's going for him now that Brexit is a reality?

LANGFITT: Things are going really badly. So before Brexit, when the U.K. was in the EU, there was seamless trade, like between the states in the U.S. And Jonathan dredged up his oysters. They were shipped to Europe, and then they were cleaned, which worked out just fine. Now, after Brexit, those British oysters are subject to EU rules about imports, just like any other country outside the EU. So Jonathan's oysters now have to be cleaned here on this side of the English Channel. And I know this doesn't really sound like a big deal, but if you're in the oyster business, it is. And that's because it adds costs, and it means there's less time to get those oysters onto European plates before they die. Bottom line - more oysters are going to die in transit. So this and other changes because of Brexit have really hurt the fishing industry. In fact, shellfish and fish exports to the EU just in January were down more than 80% year on year. Now, the government likes to call this just teething problems and says trade volumes overall are already rebounding.

GARCIA: Yeah. That is, I got to say, a staggering drop though - 80%. Plus...


GARCIA: You've got dead oysters. And, Frank, I'm no expert on this, but I mean, dead oysters are not good, tasty oysters.

LANGFITT: No, and you can't make any money off them, obviously. So Jonathan is one of, like, more than 40 fishermen and women around here who are pretty much out of work this season. And I asked him when we were out on his boat, like, how he thinks this is going to impact him in the long run.

Do you think that you'll keep fishing? Or...

BAILEY: Oh, I'm 66. I'm wondering whether this is the moment to say, the end.

LANGFITT: How would you feel about not fishing anymore?

BAILEY: I would be very, very, very, very upset.


GARCIA: OK. So, Frank - things clearly not looking good for the oyster fishermen on the English coast. What's next on the menu? Where are we headed next in our Brexit food tour?

LANGFITT: So next - off to Wales for wine and then the northwest of England for cheese.

GARCIA: Oh, wine and cheese - nice pairing, classic, traditional. Let's do that right after a quick break.


GARCIA: OK, Frank, we're done with the delicious oyster course, so let's continue on with this Brexit culinary tour. And, Frank, I could really use a bevy, so what were you saying about wine?

LANGFITT: Yeah, wine is, Cardiff, a really good example of, frankly, how Brexit can cost you in the checkout line. So let's head to Wales. And we're going to meet Daniel Lambert, who imports wine.

DANIEL LAMBERT: So this is our little warehouse.

LANGFITT: So Daniel imports tens of thousands of cases of wine each year, most of it, of course, from Europe. And for Daniel, this used to be really easy.

LAMBERT: We used to just have to do one set of paperwork - very, very simple indeed.

LANGFITT: But now because the U.K.'s outside of the EU - it's Brexited (ph) - there's so much more.

LAMBERT: I have to send the order to the producer. The producer then produces a pro forma invoice, which they send back to me. On the pro forma invoice, they have to quote my order number.

LANGFITT: So I'm going to dip Daniel down a little bit because he actually went on for more than a minute describing the avalanche of confusing forms he now has to fill out. He said each separate set of forms costs 75 bucks.

So on a scale of one to 10, how much are you enjoying this new system?

LAMBERT: (Laughter) About zero.

GARCIA: Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, everybody hates paperwork - super-annoying. But, Frank, did you ask him, you know, what about the real impact on his business?

LANGFITT: Yeah. What he said is paperwork costs will be passed on to consumers, but some small retailers won't be able to afford the extra paperwork costs of ordering different kinds of wine. So in the end, that's actually going to mean less variety on the shelves.

LAMBERT: The cost of a bottle of wine, I can see at the moment, you're talking nearly two bucks on a bottle.

LANGFITT: Mmm hmm. So basically, you think consumers will be paying an extra two bucks a bottle.


LANGFITT: And they'll have less choice.

LAMBERT: Correct, but that's Brexit.

GARCIA: Yikes - higher prices and less choice.

LANGFITT: (Laughter) Exactly.

GARCIA: Frank, I mean, I love me some wine and oysters, but this is kind of a bummer so far. Please tell me there's somebody out there who is happy with how Brexit is going.

LANGFITT: I just - I haven't met any businesses, honestly, that are happy, but I have met some people who have found ways to turn Brexit losses into wins. There was this cheesemaker in the northwest of England. His name's Simon Spurrell. He runs the Cheshire Cheese Company, and here he is introducing me to his cows at milking time.

SIMON SPURRELL: The cows have a very nice life. They're normally out wondering the 200 acres of fields around here, pastures to wander around all day. So it's lovely.


LANGFITT: Like our oysterman that we met at the beginning, Simon is now having a lot of trouble exporting into the EU market. First, here's his problem. He used to export cheese to Europe smoothly and cheaply. And now for each order, he has to pay 250 bucks for a veterinary certificate, which he says is going to cost him $350,000 in lost sales this year. So Simon shared his sad tale on Twitter, and his countrymen basically came to his rescue and started buying cheese like never before. And in the first two months of this year, Simon's cheese sales here went up 900%.

SPURRELL: We've actually ended up with a surge of nationalistic cheese-buying frenzy there.

LANGFITT: How long do you think that will last?

SPURRELL: I can't see this being a sustainable model. We can't keep shouting every single week, buy British, buy British, and expect...

GARCIA: Yeah, nationalistic pity-buying, essentially, has its limits...

LANGFITT: (Laughter).

GARCIA: ...I think, you know? (Laughter).

LANGFITT: Anywhere, yeah.

GARCIA: So, Frank, we did it - wine, oysters and cheese. And yeah, there was a little bit of a silver lining for Simon there. But overall, Brexit seems to have been really depressing for these sectors. So how would you summarize the lesson for our listeners, Frank?

LANGFITT: Yeah, I think, Cardiff, Brexiteers told the British people they could walk away from this giant EU single market at almost no cost. But so far, that's certainly not possible for our oyster fisherman, the wine importer and Simon, the cheesemaker. And the result so far has been lost markets or higher costs. And this is how Simon put it in kind of classic British understatement.

SPURRELL: We were mis-sold (ph) on the whole Brexit, and that's trying to be as polite as possible.

LANGFITT: We're Americans.

SPURRELL: (Laughter).

LANGFITT: Do not be polite. We don't understand subtlety at all.

SPURRELL: Right. Yes, we were mis-sold the Brexit dream. We were told what we wanted to hear in order to actually get the right outcome, but that is politics, I suppose, at the end of the day.

LANGFITT: Cardiff, I've worked here for a number of years, and I'm used to sort of translating polite Britishisms into American English. And I think what Simon's trying to say here is a lot of people feel conned.

GARCIA: (Laughter) Frank Langfitt, NPR London correspondent, thanks for translating the Britishisms for us.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Cardiff.


GARCIA: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Jessica Beck and Jamila Huxtable, with help from Isaac Rodrigues. It was edited by Nick Fountain and Jolie Myers. And THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.


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