Norfolk farmers 'appalled' at timing of no-deal Brexit tariff announcement
Norfolk farming leaders are "appalled" that the government has only published its import tariff schedule for a no-deal Brexit scenario just 16 days before it could potentially come into effect.
The new levies, to be imposed after a March 29 Brexit if MPs vote to leave the EU without a deal, could force up prices on some EU imports including many food products, offering protection for some farm sectors.
Sheep producers are set to benefit from existing tariff protection in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but beef, dairy and poultry farmers will see their tariffs reduced, while cereal, egg and fruit and vegetable growers will have no protection at all.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said it would be the biggest change to how the UK imports goods in half a century – yet the details only emerged with little over a fortnight to the scheduled Brexit departure date.
NFU Norfolk county chairman Nick Deane said: “It is appalling that this tariff schedule has only just been published, potentially giving Norfolk farmers only two weeks to assess its implications.
“We hope it’s a schedule that will never be applied, because farms and food businesses need an orderly Brexit, not a no-deal Brexit.
“The absence of protection for cereals, eggs, fruit and vegetables is particularly concerning, given the importance of these sectors in Norfolk and across the East of England. These tariffs could make it harder to export our food to the European Union, while increasing food imports into the UK from across the world.”
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NFU president Minette Batters added: “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.
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“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.”
Ministers said that, overall, the changes would represent a “modest liberalisation” of the UK’s tariff regime.
They said that 87pc of all imports to the UK by value would be eligible for zero-tariff access - up from 80pc at present - while many other goods will be subject to a lower rate than currently applied under EU rules.
But business leaders warned that slashing tariffs on imports from outside the EU, potentially lowering prices on goods from countries like the USA and China, could “destroy” manufacturing jobs and act as a “sledgehammer” to the UK economy.