Thu, Oct 17, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Brexit concerns blowing gale across nervy Falklands

AFP, STANLEY, Falkland Islands

It might be a remote archipelago 13,000km from mainland Britain, but the Falkland Islands’ incredible biodiversity, as well as fishing and meat exports, are under threat from Brexit.

While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government and the EU squabble over Brexit, conservationists in the Falklands — a British overseas territory of 3,400 inhabitants — are anxiously following events as they run the risk of losing significant EU funding.

Esther Bertram, head of the Falklands Conservation non-governmental organization, says Britain must take responsibility for the wildlife in its overseas territories.

“It can be forgotten that we are where the most fabulous of the UK’s wildlife is,” Bertram said. “We have endangered sei whales visiting here. We have the largest populations of a whole range of species: black-browed albatrosses, we have five [species of] penguins that you can trip over, we have elephant seals sprawling — it’s a phenomenal natural environment.”

The windswept British outpost in the South Atlantic has received 600,000 euros (US$662,094) in funding from EU Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services in European Territories Overseas.

About 90 percent of the UK’s biodiversity is found in overseas territories, according to the Falkland Islands government.

Bertram, 45, wants to know how that financing shortfall will be made up after Oct. 31, Johnson’s deadline for leading Britain out of the EU.

“Going forwards, there’s been no reassurance that we’ll be able to have any access to EU funding,” she said, adding that London needs to take responsibility “for its wildlife in the overseas territories as much as it does anywhere else.”

The Falklands’ two main exports — fishing and meat — could be adversely affected by a “no deal” Brexit or even a bad deal, Falklands Legislator Leona Roberts said.

Fishing accounted for 43 percent of the islands’ GDP from 2007 to 2016, and nearly all its exports last year went to the EU.

“We currently benefit from a tariff-free and quota-free access for that product, and if that changes, of course, we could find ourselves in a very difficult situation with government revenue dropping considerably,” said Roberts, who holds the portfolio for policy and public relations.

WTO tariffs range from 6 to 18 percent and a “no deal” departure could see fishing revenue drop by 16 percent, the government estimates.

The meat industry, run mostly by family-owned farms, could also face a significant impact, even though most of the beef and lamb is exported to Britain.

“There’s a potential knock-on effect there as well, if tariffs and quotas are introduced,” Roberts said.

If less UK-produced meat is sold to the other EU nations, then mainland Britain would need to import a smaller amount from the Falklands.

“If less meat is being produced for sale overseas, there is the risk of job losses,” Roberts said.

The Falkland Islands government estimates that its meat could be subject to 12.8 percent tariffs, plus a charge of 155.68 euros per 100kg exported, leading to annual losses of up to 30 percent.

As a British overseas territory, the islanders did not get to vote in the Brexit referendum.

The islands are not even part of the UK — and hence not part of the EU — but as an overseas territory they benefit from the customs union.

One area less likely to be affected is the islands’ raw wool sector, which is not subject to tariffs.

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