Monday, April 22, 2024

Higher tariffs, subsidies promised

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High tariffs will be slapped on lamb and beef imports to protect Britain’s farmers, who might also get increased subsidies, after the country leaves the European Union, reports there suggest.
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Only food Britain does not produce will be tariff-free, a report in the British Farmers Weekly says.

Both the Financial Times and Politic said a deal was done in the Cabinet between those wanting to provide cheap food for consumers and those wanting to protect farmers.

It is understood products such as beef and lamb will attract the highest tariffs while those trading at or close to world prices will have lower tariffs and foods, such as citrus fruit, that Britain doesn’t produce at all will have no tariffs.

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 but has yet to ratify a deal for its departure. There is also speculation it might seek a delay.

Consumer groups are strongly opposed to tariffs being put on food going into the United Kingdom in the event of a no-deal Brexit, saying it would push up prices and send the wrong signals to other potential trading partners.

But Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove attending the National Farmers Union conference promised to introduce tariffs on some food imports, to provide protection from cheap imports.

A formal announcement was said to be imminent but a week later there was no sign of it. 

The delays have been widely interpreted as evidence of a continuing spat within cabinet between those who want cheap food for consumers and those who want to support farmers.

A report issued by government on February 26 into the effects of a no-deal Brexit gave no further details of possible import tariffs.

But the reports in the Financial Times and on the Politico website suggested a deal might have been struck in Cabinet, which could see a tiered system of import tariffs.

The prospect of tariffs drew stinging criticism from consumer group Consumer Choice Centre.

“Imposing tariffs on meat imports will not only put another burden on British consumers but will also increase the costs of Brexit and send a signal to the rest of the world that post-Brexit Britain will pursue protectionism ahead of consumer interests,” spokeswoman Maria Chaplia said.

Abolishing tariffs would help lower the price of meat by more than 3% and encourage the meat industry to compete with the rest of the world, she said.

But NFU combinable crops chairman Tom Bradshaw insisted tariff protection is essential in the event of a no-deal Brexit, even in the cereals sector, to offer some protection against sub-standard imports.

“Let’s be clear, tariffs on grain have very little impact on food prices,” he said. 

“If British grain exports are going to face EU tariffs it’s not unreasonable for our government to reciprocate and put in place levels of protection for our own growers.” 

In its conference coverage the UK Farmers Guardian said farming bodies pushing the Government to mitigate the worst impacts of a no-deal Brexit secured a key win on tariff protection for food products.

Gove confirmed tariffs on food imports such as milk, cheese, lamb and pig meat were likely to be maintained in a no-deal scenario though he would not comment about cereals.

The decision was made in spite of considerable pressure to unilaterally drop tariffs to keep food prices low from top Brexiteers, think tanks and, according to reports, some Cabinet Ministers.

The dairy and pig sectors will be particularly relieved because they were concerned they would be overlooked, with ministers focused on the need to protect beef and sheep meat.

Gove said “The NFU and others have made strong arguments about the need (in a no-deal scenario) to secure strong tariff protection and, in particular, stronger protection for British farming over any other sector of the economy.

“In particular, you have argued we need tariffs on sheep meat, beef, poultry, dairy, like milk and cheese, and pig meat to safeguard our valuable domestic production.

“Your concerns have absolutely been heard.”

And he said he will not hesitate to provide direct cash support for the most vulnerable sectors on top of tariff protection.

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker welcomed the comments while Livestock Auctioneers Association executive secretary and UK Livestock Brexit Group chairman Chris Dodds said it is a good example of the industry pulling together for results.

Gove also agreed to consider establishing a Trade and Food Commission made up of food and farming experts to ensure the UK’s high food production standards are protected in any Brexit scenario.

The NFU called on the government to set the commission up to find a way to ensure imports meet the same standards as food produced domestically and explore how future trade deals should be scrutinised by Parliament and industry.

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