NFU Scotland has warned that unilaterally lowering tariffs would result in greater access to foreign food produced at questionable standards.
In its response to the UK Government’s consultation on the future of UK tariffs, NFUS reinforced the message that any compromise on standards for products being imported would have serious consequences for Scottish agriculture.
The response made it clear that applied tariffs must not unilaterally lowered in advance of trade talks. The UK’s 2019 temporary tariff schedule in the case of a no-deal Brexit, which proposed reducing and removing UK import tariffs, caused trade partners to halt negotiations on transitioning existing EU trade deals.
In the consultation submission, NFU Scotland stated that any tariff reduction or removal should only be done as part of trade negotiations and in return for reciprocal concessions.
NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “Applied tariffs are of fundamental importance to Scottish agriculture and it is absolutely crucial that we want to keep tariffs at the current level.
“The high production standards to which we operate in Scotland do not come for free. It is the current tariffs that provide a level of protection to offset low price, low standard imports. They are the only tools allowed under World Trade Organisation rules to do that.
“That protection has been vital, helping protect farmers and crofters against the worst effects of global competition.
“Our industry is proud of the high standards it operates to, but these impose very significant additional costs. With WTO rules not allowing trade to be blocked to ensure a level playing field, it is only through the applied tariffs that any protection can be offered to our industry.”
“Scotland’s farmers and crofters produce food which is world renowned for quality and we do not want to have these efforts undermined by applied tariffs with lower standards.”
Although the UK is no longer a Member State, tariffs cannot be changed until the end of 2020, when the transition period ends, at which point they can be kept as they are or be reduced.
In early 2019, as part of its no-deal planning, the UK Government sent the World Trade Organisation a schedule of tariffs that stripped all protection from some agricultural products and reduced it on the rest.