What does the UK Global Tariff Schedule mean for NI farmers?

The announcement from the UK Government that it will largely maintain the UK’s tariff on imports is largely to be welcomed.

Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Picture: Cliff Donaldson

It was March of last year that the Government had announced that it would significantly liberalise the UK market for agricultural products under what was called at the time “the UK’s temporary tariff regime”, also known as the “no-deal tariff”.

This latest announcement supersedes that deeply damaging tariff schedule but by reaching this position, the Government has assumed that it will be able to secure a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU by the end of the year. 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. The UFU is calling on the Government to provide urgent clarity on this.

The UK’s Global Tariff (UKGT) Schedule, as it is formally known, is based on the EU schedule we operated under as members of the EU, but with a number of simplifications and a limited amount of liberalisations. Across all the thousands of tariff lines that apply to the agri-food products entering the UK there have been adjustments. Those adjustments broadly fall into three categories – currency conversion from €’s to £’s (based on the average exchange rate over the past five years of €1= 0.83687GBP), rounding down to the nearest whole percentage within defined tariff bands (two percent, five percent and ten percent) and removing nuisance tariffs of less than two-point-five percent.

In practice these are tweaks that mean that the vast majority of agricultural products will retain similar levels of protection as we currently have. This is a positive outcome especially when one recalls that the UK Government‘s temporary tariff schedule reduced tariffs on most agricultural commodities, and in cases such as eggs, cereals and some dairy and horticultural products, removed them completely. However, there are some aspects of concern. The removal of the variable tariffs on feed grains will put added pressure on UK arable farmers who are already facing a difficult 2020/2021 marketing year due to COVID-19 effects and challenging growing conditions.  

The UFU will also want to look in detail at the removal of the Entry Price System for a number of fruits and vegetables. On first glance it appears that the Government has sought to replace the current complex system with specific tariffs that will apply during our growing “seasons.” 

The UKGT essentially sets the starting point from which free trade negotiations will be launched. Aside from the concerns set out above, this announcement is to be broadly welcomed. However, it is worth remembering that many of the retained tariffs are the very things that trading partners such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand will want to see negotiated away under future trade deals that could be struck in the coming months. The UFU will therefore continue to campaign for future trade deals to include strong provisions ensuring food imports are produced to the same standards required of our own farmers, ensuring that any concessions UK negotiators give on market access – such as lower or zero tariffs on agricultural goods – be accompanied by clear conditions on how those goods have been produced.

This is not simply an issue of fairness to our farmers, who have to meet high and costly production standards, but is also vital if the UK is to show international leadership in promoting high standards of farming across the world.