Farmers have said they feel “betrayed” by the government after it published its update to the UK’s temporary tariff regime, which includes a zero percent tariff on eggs and certain agricultural goods, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
The Department of International Trade (DIT) said its temporary tariff regime provided a balanced approach on tariffs for both consumers and producers, with 88% of products tariff-free.
“This will mean lower prices in shops for consumers and the opportunity to source the best goods from around the world,” the department said in a statement.
But farmers have reacted with dismay that products which are produced in other countries to lower standards than is permitted in the UK could be imported without any tariffs, thereby undermining British producers.
NFU President Minette Batters has said the government has severely undermined the British farming industry by confirming it will remove the tariff safeguards for a number of key agricultural sectors in the event of a no-deal Brexit, including grains, eggs, fruit and vegetables and a number of dairy products.
Not only will the government’s approach put significant additional financial pressure on farmers at precisely the time they will be facing enormous challenges from a no-deal Brexit, but it also risks the UK being flooded with imports produced to lower standards that would be illegal for UK farmers.
Batters said: “I wrote to the Prime Minister only a few weeks ago to express our concerns with the approach the government took back in March to import tariffs in a no-deal scenario. But with the chances of us leaving in less than four weeks without a deal increasing by the day, the Prime Minister has missed a real opportunity to back British farmers.
“Farmers and growers are understandably anxious to know that the government will take all steps necessary to help the sector avoid the worst impacts of leaving the EU without a deal. Instead we will see – from day one – farm businesses facing new, high tariffs on much of the 60% of our exports that go into the EU, while tariffs on goods coming into the UK will be set far, far lower and in many cases won’t be applied at all. In particular, British egg farmers, British cereal farmers, our horticultural growers and many of our dairy farmers will have zero protection against cheap imports coming in from around the world.”
UFU president Ivor Ferguson said farmers in Northern Ireland were also left vulnerable: “The lack of changes to the UK’s temporary tariff schedule originally released in March, means we could lose some of our preferential access to some of our key export markets. At the same time, we have the possibility of importing food produced to lower standards regarding animal welfare and environment, which would be illegal in the UK. Not only does this put our farmers at risk, but also our consumers.
“The UK presently imports around 40% of its food requirements with approximately 70% of this currently imported duty free from the rest of the EU. We accept the importance of ensuring food prices remain stable for consumers in a no-deal situation, however, sacrificing the farming industry and increasing reliance on imports is not the way to do it. Additionally, these tariff proposals will not necessarily guarantee cheaper food.”
The UK is a world-class producer of agri-food. However, there must be a level playing field so that local produce can compete on the market.
“A combination of losing access to key trading partners while opening up our markets would be potentially disastrous. How long could farmers survive with no meaningful protection and new export barriers?
“Farming families are once again left in fear of what could happen to their businesses if a no-deal Brexit occurs. We have constantly repeated that a no-deal outcome would be catastrophic for Northern Ireland farming having an immediate and profound impact on farming families, causing major disruptions to the supply chain, crippling the industry and rendering our farmers uncompetitive. This is why we have called for reciprocal tariffs. Whatever the EU applies, the UK should apply in return,” said Ferguson.
In August, the UFU wrote to Prime Minster Boris Johnson on this issue and also the application of differential import tariff arrangements within the UK, in terms of the imports from Republic of Ireland to either Northern Ireland or Great Britain.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Prime Minister did not take our concerns regarding imports to NI on board. Farmers are the bedrock of the agriculture industry and everything must be done to ensure the future viability of Northern Ireland’s family-run farm businesses. If we can get trade policy right, it can protect our standards, allow companies to continue trading and also protect the consumer.
“The UFU will continue to lobby Government so that a no-deal Brexit is avoided and secure a deal which allows trade between NI and GB, as well as NI and the ROI, to continue with minimal disruption. While also enabling as frictionless as possible trade with the rest of the EU,” said the UFU president.