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Cypriot farmers fear no-deal Brexit may hit livelihoods
[AVDIMOU, Cyprus] Olive farmer Andreas Fotiou steered carefully along a dusty lane in southwest Cyprus, en route from his village to nearby groves -- locations that could have clashing trade regimes, post-Brexit.
He fears he could lose out on vital EU subsidies, and even be forced to pay crippling tariffs, if London and Brussels fail to finalise a withdrawal agreement or trade deal.
Fotiou is one of thousands of Cypriot farmers who work on British military bases, part of Britain's sovereign territory, and which sprawl over about three percent of the Mediterranean island.
"If the UK leaves the EU on bad terms... (it) spells disaster for the communities that are on the British bases," said the 54-year-old.
"We cannot afford to pay extra taxes," he added, amid uncertainty about tariffs that generally apply when produce is imported from so-called "third party countries" into EU territory.
The European Commission's online trade and customs database flags duties of 15.2 per cent for olive imports from nations outside the EU with no agreed trade deals.
Historically, relations between local farmers and the British military have been "excellent", Fotiou said, standing in the shade of an olive tree.
"When there are problems we sit at the table and solve it on the spot."
But "no one has informed us what will happen after Brexit, what the status will be," he added.
His picturesque village of Avdimou borders Akrotiri -- one of two military bases Britain kept on the island after Cyprus gained independence in 1960. The other, Dhekelia, is in the east.
Olives, grapes and potatoes are key crops on extended non-militarised stretches of these British sovereign territories, while farmers also keep livestock.
Fellow villager Constantina Pieroua, who grazes 600 sheep on Akrotiri, said she is stressed about the future.
"A lot of farmers are afraid. Our farm is on the base and maybe we don't have a job after Brexit - it is a dangerous situation for us," the 41-year-old said.
- Cyprus protocol 'developed' -
The farmers' sense of insecurity is compounded by losing their original lands after Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus, which came in response to a Greece-sponsored military coup.
Displaced from what is now the Turkish-occupied northern third of the island, Fotiou and Pieroua said their families were among some 1,000 people re-homed in Avdimou, many of whom came to farm on Akrotiri base.
Negotiations between London and Brussels over an EU withdrawal agreement have been running parallel to talks between Britain and Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, on an annex to the main exit deal.
Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament last week that the Cypriot protocol has now been "developed".
But the European Commission has long maintained that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", indicating that the Cyprus protocol would be inapplicable if ongoing negotiations over the wider UK-EU withdrawal deal fail.
Cyprus's foreign ministry told AFP "the rights and interests of Cypriots residing in the bases should and will be safeguarded", even if there is no withdrawal agreement.
Cyprus has "plans for addressing all scenarios", the ministry said in a statement to AFP.
It cited the former British colony's 1960 Treaty of Establishment, which stipulates that there be no customs barriers between the bases and the Republic of Cyprus.
- Legal ambiguities -
But others point to uncertainties surrounding Cypriot, EU and world trade law.
One legal expert who has followed the Cypriot negotiations closely said "the scenario of farmers paying tariffs cannot be ruled out".
The laws of the EU's Customs Union apply on the bases, but a key UK parliamentary committee has warned that arrangement will lapse after Brexit.
"Goods will no longer be able to flow freely" between the bases and the Republic of Cyprus, the European Scrutiny Committee said in July.
"Instead, EU law will require Cyprus to apply customs and regulatory controls on crossing between the two for the first time," it added.
There have also been reports that the passage of British military supplies through Cyprus and onto the sovereign bases could be compromised by a no-deal Brexit.
The London daily The Times said in August that British officials had concluded they would need to extend a small existing port on Akrotiri significantly, to avoid complications at Cypriot ports.
But one analyst told AFP that under a no-deal scenario, the EU would be likely to agree exemptions.
The bases fall under "security cooperation, which both the UK and the EU agree should remain largely unaffected irrespective of future arrangements", said Kit Nicholl, a security analyst for IHS Markit in London.
Britain's Ministry of Defence said "constructive discussions" had taken place with Cyprus "to safeguard the effective military functioning of the bases, and minimise disruption and uncertainty for citizens, businesses, and residents".
"We look forward to working with the Republic of Cyprus and our European partners to build an enduring and mutually beneficial future relationship," a spokesman said in comments emailed to AFP.