Farming unions warn UK Global Tariffs could be ‘negotiated away’

The UK’s farming unions have welcomed the government’s Global Tariff announcement as a “step in the right direction” but warned that they could be “negotiated away” in deals.

A statement by National Farmers’ Union, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers’ Union read: “We are pleased the government has listened and maintained many of the safeguards currently in place for UK farmers under its new UK Global Tariff schedule.

“This is particularly important in fulfilling the UK government’s commitment not to undermine our high food and farming standards.

It is worth remembering, however, that these tariffs are likely to be negotiated away as part of any trade deals that will be struck in the coming months, and so those deals must include strong provisions ensuring food imports are produced to the same standards required of our own farmers.

“Not only will this help the government fulfil its vision of a sustainable and profitable UK farming sector but will also meet public demand that our standards are not undermined in future trade policy.

“Although the overall position appears to support UK farmers, we need to examine and fully consider all the implications of the simplifications involved.

“For instance, it is still likely that the changes will lead to increased competition for some domestically-produced commodities and we will need to understand the precise nature and impact of that.

“We are also urging the government to provide clarity around its ability to adjust the tariffs announced today, in particular in the event that there is no negotiated agreement with the EU on a future relationship by the end of the year,” it added.

‘It’s essential tariffs are not watered down’

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) also warned that the tariffs should not be “watered down”, whatever the outcome of current trade negotiations.

FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The importance of aligning agricultural tariffs for products such as beef, lamb and dairy produce is something the FUW made clear in a meeting with Minister Hands [the UK Government’s Minister for Trade Policy], on Monday (May 18).

“Since February last year, we have written repeatedly to the UK Government regarding proposed draft tariff rates which would represent a major threat to UK farmers and consumers, the UK’s food security and would be a massive own goal in terms of reducing our negotiating capital in trade talks.”

Roberts said that while the FUW was still considering the full range of tariffs – of which there are almost 12,000 – and their potential impacts, the decision to closely align tariffs for key Welsh agricultural products such as lamb, beef, cheese and butter with those in place in the EU was a welcome step compared with previously published draft rates which were a fraction of those applied by the EU.

“However, it is essential that we do not see these reduced or watered down, whatever the outcome of the current trade negotiations,” he said.

We need to maintain tariffs at rates which protect our farmers and food security and give us negotiating capital when discussing trade deals.

“Even in the event of a no-deal Brexit in the short-term, we need to keep import tariffs at rates which match those of the EU and therefore provide an incentive for a beneficial deal between the UK and other countries – especially those that are on our doorstep within the EU, ” he added.