NI farmers lobby government on tariff policy

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has submitted its feedback to UK Government’s public consultation on proposals for a new UK global tariff policy titled UK Most Favoured Nation. It is Government’s intention to implement a bespoke tariff schedule tailored to the needs of the UK economy and reflecting the interests of the country, and the consultation sought views on the development of the new policy.

Commenting on the consultation, UFU president Ivor Ferguson said, “Northern Ireland (NI) stakeholders have a keen interest in influencing UK trade policy given the importance of trade to NI. The four-week timescale set by the Department of International Trade for responses was very short considering the significance of the issue and the scale of feedback expected from respondents.

“The UFU has long advocated that new policy should be based on science and evidence and be created in a transparent nature. There has been neither an impact assessment published alongside these proposals nor any economic modelling. This impact assessment should have been completed in sufficient time so that it could be shared with key stakeholders.”

It is crucial that the UK’s global tariff schedule supports a thriving UK agriculture sector.

“The government must set our external applied tariffs at a level that prevents the UK market from being flooded with imported food produced to much lower standards when compared to those our farmers are expected to meet. To do otherwise would contradict the Government’s commitment to uphold our high animal welfare and environmental standards undermining UK farmers in the process. The UK’s trade and tariff policy needs to ensure that UK consumers continue to have access to safe, traceable and nutritious food UK farmers have provided for generations,” said Ferguson.

The UFU recognises there is a desire by many within Government to liberalise agriculture tariffs in the pursuit of cheaper food. However, any concerns about food prices need to be given historical context.

“Food has never been more affordable in the UK than it is at present. Due to the rise of average incomes and the availability of cheaper produce, people are spending less on food than they ever did. The average UK family spend 10% of their income on food and drink, a decline from 30% in the 1950s. In fact, in the UK, the proportion of household incomes spent on food is the third lowest in the world behind only the United States and Singapore.

“The UFU is aware that the impact of rising food prices is most deeply felt by those who are earning a below average income. However, we suggest this is due to other economic and social policies as opposed to being caused by the price of food.

“The consultation specifically seeks to simplify agriculture tariffs and to move towards expressing them as a single percentage. To calculate all agricultural tariffs as a single percentage could undermine their effectiveness. The agricultural process can be very volatile and a fall in prices would reduce the protection of local producers. This could subsequently lead to an import surge at a time of already low prices, further compounding the market problem. To add extra concerns, the NI protocol has not been taken into account. Maximising the alignment of the UK and EU tariff would ease administration and avoid NI competitiveness being undermined,” said the UFU president.

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