The failure by the UK Government to increase the tariff rates which would apply for imports of agricultural products from the rest of the world in the event of a no-deal Brexit has been described by the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) as an ‘own goal’ in terms of the UK’s negotiating position and a further failure to protect Welsh and UK farmers against low quality imports.
Revised tariff rates published by the government on Monday (October 7) introduce three specific changes affecting HGVs, bioethanol and clothing, but leave most tariffs which would apply on key food at zero or a fraction of those which would apply for our own exports to the continent in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“This means, for example, that the tariff that would apply on cheddar we export to the EU would be 57%, whereas those importing into the UK would only have to pay 7%,” said FUW president Glyn Roberts.
“For fresh or chilled beef carcasses our exports to the EU would attract a 70% tariff compared with 37% for what we would charge on imports - but the first 124,000 tonnes would not attract any tariffs at all.”
Mr Roberts said the picture was similar for most key agricultural products produced in the UK, meaning the UK Government had set the tables firmly against UK farming, risking opening the door to food from around the world produced to standards which would be illegal in the UK.
“The FUW and other organisations have written repeatedly to Defra ministers since February highlighting the fact that Welsh and UK producers would be undermined if tariff levels were set at zero or low levels, but these warnings have been ignored,” he added.
“Setting low import tariffs and high Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) [the total tonnage below which no tariff charges apply] before entering negotiations with other countries also undermines our negotiating position.
“It’s like choosing to take a pen-knife to a gun-fight,” said Mr Roberts.
In July this year, UK trade envoy Andrew Percy MP quit in protest after the UK Government’s decision to scrap or slash tariffs is thought to have led to Canada refusing to reach a draft trade deal with the UK - with an ally of Mr Percy telling the Independent that with low tariffs giving Canada “...95 per cent of what they wanted if a no-deal happened...the tariffs were better than what is in Ceta [the EU’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement] – so why would they rush to sign up to what the UK wanted?”
Mr Roberts said the failure to revise the tariffs on key UK agricultural products upwards was: “Yet another own goal by our UK Government in terms of throwing away negotiating capital, and a further failure to protect Welsh and UK farmers against low quality imports.”