The Government’s refusal to levy no-deal tariffs on foreign imports will put pressure on UK farmers and risks flooding the domestic market with lower standard food, says Efra Committee chair Neil Parish MP.
The news this week that the Department for International Trade had updated its temporary tariff regime in the event of no-deal was welcomed in many sectors.
However, it was short-lived.
Only three specific amendments were made, affecting HGVs, bioethanol and clothing.
The food and farming sector, which had called strongly for significant changes to its proposed tariff regime, is right to be concerned about a no-deal outcome.
Tariff safeguards will not apply for several key agricultural sectors in the event of a no-deal Brexit, including grains, eggs, fruit and vegetables and a number of dairy products.
This approach will put significant additional financial pressure on farmers at exactly the time they will be facing vast challenges from a no-deal Brexit.
But the tariff regime also risks the UK being flooded with imports produced to lower standards which would be illegal for UK farmers.
As a farmer, and as chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, I know this is the wrong move.
When my Committee took evidence during our ‘Brexit: Trade in Food’ inquiry, witnesses warned of a race to the bottom in standards.
They highlighted different methods of farming across the globe included higher levels of pesticide use, genetically modified organisms, growth hormones, animal cloning and cultured meat.
In Britain, we rightly pride ourselves on our world-leading food and animal welfare standards.
British produce has become an internationally-renowned mark of quality.
It means our produce sells all over the world – which benefits not just farmers, but rural communities, the ordinary consumer and our precious environment.
It has brought growth and regeneration to many rural communities, including those in my own constituency of Tiverton and Honiton. Many livelihoods depend on it.
The free-traders who want to reduce prices and regulation take little account of the immediate impact on our farm businesses.
But it’s not just farmers who are right to be concerned.
New free trade deals can lead to lower standards for consumers too, damaging animal welfare protections and significantly affecting rural communities in Devon and across the country.
International trade is essential to the UK’s prosperity – and always has been. I am glad we have focussed attention on preserving trade with our largest partner, the EU.
But Brexit has long meant the opportunity to redesign UK trade policy, by conducting agreements with growth markets outside the EU.
The tension between the two is at the heart of the current Brexit debate.
In my view, such a transformational shift in trade should not happen overnight. We need a longer and more considered debate about the direction of travel.
While it may be politically expedient for the Government to leave the EU and strike deals with big partners like the US as soon as possible, it could be disastrous for rural communities.
I will be making this point directly to Trade Ministers – and to the Prime Minister when I next see him.
We all want a Brexit deal with the EU, but under no-deal circumstances, equivalent standards and tariffs must be imposed to protect British farming.
Neil can be found tweeting at @neil_parish