Defra and trade organisations have been urged to provide “detailed sector analysis on the impact of tariffs on the UK’s agricultural sectors”.
In its report on Brexit’s impact on the food trade, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has warned that reverting to World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs will have a “significant impact upon agriculture”, with the sheep, dairy and cereals sectors expected to be most affected.
Although the committee recognised the Government’s “intention” to agree a comprehensive free trade agreement and customs agreement with the EU, it added “there is no guarantee that this will occur”.
Having heard from industry experts, including Dr Phil Hadley of AHDB, Nick Allen of the British Meat Processors Association, Richard Griffiths of the British Poultry Council, Peter Allan of Cargill Meats Europe and Andrew Saunders of Tulip Ltd, the committee called for the publication of the Agricultural Bill “as soon as possible”, noting that Defra should consider providing a fund to support the food producing industry, to help it adapt effectively.
With regards to establishing tariffs at the WTO, the report warns that the Government “must give careful consideration to the impact on the UK’s agricultural industry”, highlighting that it has offered “no clarity to the agricultural industry on its post-Brexit policy”.
“High tariffs on imports would raise the cost for consumers while removing tariffs could lower the cost for consumers but have a devastating effect on the long-term future of the UK’s agricultural industry,” it stated.
It added that such a move could put many UK farmers out of business, which would be detrimental to the rural economy, and render the UK dependent on imported food.
The Government has also been urged to offer “clarity and stability, so that the industry has the confidence to invest and take advantage of the opportunities offered to the industry post-Brexit”, while offering policies that would stimulate home-grown food production.
The report also highlights that “any change in our trade arrangements” could lead to “serious disruption to supply chains”, putting particular emphasis on the fact that “delays at border inspection posts lead to increased costs, and are a threat to perishable goods”.
It added: “It is imperative that the Government sets out how it intends to ensure that the right IT systems and infrastructure are in place for the import and export of agricultural produce so that businesses can continue to trade smoothly with Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, and the rest of the world.”
Looking at the issue of animal welfare, the committee has cautioned that the current standards “must not be sacrificed on the altar of cheap imports”, warning that it will hold “the Secretary of State to his assurances that there will be no compromise of animal welfare, environmental and food standards”.
The committee’s report follows the “accidental” release of a memo, revealed by Greenpeace’s investigative team, in which a transatlantic group of thinktanks have outlined a project that will reportedly see them “hash out an ‘ideal’ US-UK free trade agreement” that includes Britain recognising US standards and allowing imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef.