The UK Government has an opportunity to adjust its proposed no-deal tariffs on poultry and eggs, but if it fails to do so, UK standards will be undermined by cheap imports from Ukraine and the USA, says Victoria Shervington-Jones, NFU Cymru poultry chair.
Like farmers and businesses across Wales and the rest of the UK, I’ve been watching the recent political developments with interest.
As our departure from the European Union draws ever closer, one factor which continues to cause me extreme concern – and is something I think has been very much underplayed in the Brexit debate – is the tariff rates that will be applied to agri-food products in the event of a no-deal outcome.
I run a 39,000-hen free-range laying and egg packing business on the Gwent Levels in South East Wales.
The lack of tariff protection against cheap imports, and the impact this could potentially have on my sector, frightens me.
In the event of the UK not reaching an agreement with the European Union, my egg business, and similar businesses across the UK, will face competition from egg imports – liquid and powder eggs, in particular – coming in on 0 per cent tariffs which have been produced to lower animal welfare and environmental standards than those we practise here.
In the likes of Ukraine and the USA, for example, whose standards are far lower than ours, their cost of production is 20 per cent lower, while 16 per cent of our cost of production is legislation.
There are also, of course, the 37 per cent and 19 per cent tariffs that will apply to our exports to the EU of poultry meat and eggs, respectively.
Put simply, Welsh and UK products like mine are going to be competing on an un-level playing field.
We’re very proud of the product we produce here in Wales and the standards we maintain.
The egg industry is a great example of a sector where producers have had to work extremely hard over a long period to increase consumer confidence, understanding of our products and the conditions in which our birds are kept.
In my eyes, all of that work is at risk of being undermined if we start seeing our market flooded with cheap imports which are produced to standards that would be deemed illegal if replicated here in the UK.
I am fully aware the egg and poultry sector is not alone in having these concerns.
Imports of cereals, potatoes and some dairy products will not attract any tariffs at all, either, while tariffs on beef and pork are heavily skewed in favour of importers.
The EU referendum and the sustained subsequent fallout has been extremely divisive, but regardless of whether you voted leave or remain, I hope we can all agree if and when we do leave the EU, we need to be in a position where our high standards are safeguarded.
I think it’s high time the UK Government revisited these tariff schedules and put a new proposed system in place of reciprocal tariffs that recognise, champion and protect the high standards we are proud to produce to.
If Government fails to put such a system in place, I am fearful that, regardless of the longer-term opportunities which might be open to Welsh and British farmers, the impact on farm business viability, and our future ability to safeguard food production, will be severely impacted.
Victoria can be found tweeting at @countryfreshegg