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TRQ arrangements lack clarity and certainty and farmers should not be lulled into false sense of security

European parliament should be given greater powers in the event of changes to TRQ agreements, says Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West and a member of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee in the European Parliament.

Agriculture has secured something in very short supply when it comes to Brexit – something solid with a degree of certainty.

 

The EU and UK have agreed in principle to a deal on tariff-rate quotas (TRQs).

 

This would allow both the UK and EU to maintain tariffs at current levels and split their quotas according to historical trade flows.

 

TRQs allow for the import of a certain quantity of particular (often agricultural) products at a lower rate while for quantities beyond that quota level a higher tariff applies.

 

Quotas

 

So for example, a post Brexit agreement on rice imports from Thailand would give 85 per cent of the tariff free quota to the EU and 15 per cent to the UK.

 

The EU-UK agreement on splitting the quotas was reached and submitted to the WTO in October 2017.

 

But before farmers get lulled into a false sense of security, like almost everything to do with Brexit, the new arrangements lack the clarity and certainty offered by the rules of the single market and customs union.

 

Big agricultural exporting countries like Brazil, the US, Australia and New Zealand complained about the agreement at the WTO, and Russia has now submitted an official objection.

 

Vulnerable

 

When any single trading partner lodges such an objection, the WTO is unable to certify the proposal until the problem is resolved.

 

Such challenges may only be resolved by the UK opening up its markets and allowing greater access, so making domestic farmers more vulnerable due to potential increases in cheap imports.

 

With the ongoing Brexit chaos, and a WTO in crisis thanks to attempts by the Trump administration to shut down the dispute settlement court, nothing is really agreed until everything is agreed – to steal a much-used phrase when it comes to Brexit negotiations.

 

The Agriculture Committee in the European Parliament recently voted in favour of a preliminary report which demands that when the division of TRQs changes or is renegotiated at the WTO, the European Parliament still have a say.

 

Powers

 

My own amendment was also accepted, which would ensure that this Regulation on TRQs would still apply in a no-deal Brexit scenario.

 

This report, which aims to strengthen the arm of the European Parliament in negotiating TRQs, was only a ‘committee opinion’ paper and must now be voted on in the International Trade Committee and then by all MEPs in a future plenary session.

 

But it is only right that greater powers be given to the European Parliament in the event of changes to TRQ agreements.

 

Molly can be found tweeting at @MollyMEP


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