The Ulster Farmer’s Union says agriculture sectors should be treated as sensitive and that in the event of a no deal Brexit, reciprocal tariffs must be in place to safeguard food production.
The comments were made following a detailed discussion about Brexit and tariffs at the UFU’s February Executive committee meeting.
UFU president, Ivor Ferguson said: “The UK government has already outlined that it will pursue stable food prices in the event of a no deal Brexit. This could mean the government chooses to apply a zero tariff unilaterally on all food products coming in from the EU and the rest of the world, flooding the market with lower standard food, produced at a lower cost. This would render UK producers uncompetitive, ultimately forcing us out of the market.”
The government’s own economic model recognises the detrimental impact unilateral trade liberalisation would have, forecasting decreased UK food production and depressed prices across all commodities should it implemented. The effect on the beef and sheep sectors would be particularly acute, with predictions the UK beef price could fall by 45 per cent by 2025.
The UFU favours a more sophisticated approach whereby there is reciprocity on tariffs and standards. Mr Ferguson says this would be a refined way of managing trade rather than the abolition of tariffs or a unilateral reduction.
“If the EU applies tariffs, we should reciprocate at the same level. Ongoing trade would be managed through the introduction of tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) for sectors where there is a domestic producer interest,” he added.
However, the UFU consistently argued that a no-deal Brexit has to be avoided at all costs. “Our key concern is the future of farm family businesses in Northern Ireland and there are no winners in a no deal Brexit situation,” said the UFU president.
The UK government has indicated it will shortly announce the UK’s no-deal tariff schedule.
“We are eagerly awaiting this announcement, however, it is possible it will be superseded by the events in the House of Commons next week. We continue to work to ensure politicians and civil servants in Westminster have a full understanding of what is at stake for our farming industry here and that agriculture is afforded the status it deserves,” said Mr Ferguson.
Meanwhile, the group Fairness for Farmers in Europe has issued details of an agreed statement from the groups it represents which has been delivered to a host of British, Irish and European representatives on the strong possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.
The statement says: “Fairness for Farmers in Europe (FFE), on behalf of all the family farmer members they represent, must make clear to the UK Government that it would be reckless in the extreme with the impact horrendous for agriculture and food if the UK were to crash out of the EU with no deal on March 29.
“The beef industry, to give one example across these islands, is already being devastated due to uncertainty currently with price losses at the farm gate of 10%+, not to mention the add on costs to consumers from March 29.
“For the sake of commonsense we ask you to draw back from the brink – ask for more time to achieve a successful outcome – if a deal cannot be reached by March 29.”