Batters: Low-tariff imports won’t necessarily lead to cheaper food on shelves

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters has warned that low-tariff food imports will not necessarily lead to cheaper food on supermarket shelves.

Instead, she warned that increasing the UK’s reliance on imports would have major costs for the environment.

Batters added that it was “appalling” that the tariffs have only been made public now.

“Farmers and food businesses have no time to prepare for the implications, which will be exacerbated by the fact that we will face tariffs on our own exports on food into the EU and other countries with whom we currently enjoy free trade arrangements,” she said.

“Although we are pleased to see that the Government has listened to our concerns and elected to treat many agricultural sectors sensitively, which may support farmers who are already facing disastrous disruption from no-deal, it is enormously worrying that some sectors will not have this protection – noticeably eggs, cereals, fruit and vegetables.

“Even those sectors that are treated sensitively will, in most instances, see worrying and large reductions in the tariff rates currently charged on non-EU imports.

“Furthermore, the approach taken by the Government to lump products under the same high-level tariff code – for example, whole carcases and high-value cuts of fresh beef – means there is a high chance of market distortion for many sectors who are deemed to have been treated sensitively.

We recognise the importance of ensuring food prices for consumers do not rise in a no-deal Brexit but we are deeply concerned that the approach to tariffs published today will mean a greater reliance on food produced overseas.

“This would not necessarily lead to cheaper food for consumers but would mean we export and increase the environmental impact of our food production while losing control of the high standards of animal welfare to which that food is produced.

“In a no-deal scenario, the Government must act immediately to revise these tariffs and quotas should this happen.

“But more importantly, the publication of this tariff is another example of how British farming will be damaged by a no-deal Brexit.

“No-deal must be taken off the table and a workable solution identified by MPs and Government as a matter of urgency that takes us into an orderly Brexit.”