TRENDS DO not appear out of nowhere.

Less than a year ago coronavirus was relatively harmless as the source of the common cold. Then it exploded to become a global pandemic.

The World Health Organisation is in China this week trying to establish how that happened, but without the benefit of hindsight we can never establish the difference between a challenge and a threat.

In last week's column I highlighted the warning from the OECD that meat and dairy would be hit in developed markets because of the 'ethical' trend against livestock farming. This looked an unlikely prospect when 'veganuary' saw farming in the media dock every day.

Just over six months on, this is now recognised as a long term threat to livestock farming. An old adage says that for a story you should follow the money – and this week brought evidence that global investors could influence beef production.

In the battle to keep out cheap food, the new Agriculture and Trade Commission remains a body high on Public Relations but of very limited use, because it is purely advisory. However the import issue is still very much alive and one of the big concerns remains Brazilian beef, which can undercut anything produced in Europe.

Lured by the South American market for industrial products, the EU has already made big concessions with the Mercosur countries and they are high on the UK trade deal agenda. This week one of the big investment funds in Europe, Nordea, which has over £200 billion in its investment portfolio, reportedly excluded the world's biggest meat processor from that portfolio.

The company is the multinational but Brazilian owned JBS. Its exclusion is based not only on allegations around the exploitation of rainforests but on the Covid problems in abattoirs. That this is being called out is a double edged sword. It is good news that an investment house sees a social and ethical dimension in its investments, since that points to wider support for responsible agriculture.

There are however dangers in how ethical issues are defined. This is acceptable when decisions are around unacceptable policies, but dangerous if investors buy into a trend based around a misplaced belief that all livestock farming is bad for the environment. These are subtle arguments, but in an age of social media, subtlety in debate has been lost.

As we head into August we are into the month when the long holiday break in Brussels is just about sacrosanct. This year officials involved in finding a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and EU-27 will be going nowhere. The target, when the talks began, was for a deal by the end of July – not for any reason beyond this being one of the big waypoints in the Brussels calendar.

This proved another false dawn, and the recent mood music from both sides has not sounded encouraging. However seasoned watchers of the tortuous negotiation processes that apply to everything in the EU will see a familiar pattern. The negative comments from the EU's seasoned and highly political negotiator, Michel Barnier, came as no surprise. Reading between the lines he was talking up the challenges and the risks of failure as a precursor to making concessions.

The EU has done this for years over everything from setting a budget to CAP reform and a post-Brexit trade deal is no different. It is also taking out insurance by positioning itself to avoid all the blame if it all ultimately goes wrong. In reality both sides have found the other tougher and more committed to their red lines than was thought likely at the start of the process. But Brexit has moved in London from being the biggest political issue of the day to a distant second to the looming economic Armageddon as job losses explode in the autumn.

The government is in a mood to compromise, provided it is not seen politically as caving in. The EU has had its confidence boosted by the agreement on a massive coronavirus rescue package, which has pushed Brexit down the agenda but made trade stability more important. Brussels has moved on but still wants a deal. The UK is in the same position, so in theory, like a willing buyer and seller in any livestock market, they just need to find the point where the deal they both want can be struck. It really is as simple as that – the rest is just posturing.