The Department for International Trade (DIT) is said to be considering unilaterally dropping all food tariffs if the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal – a move which could have ‘disastrous consequences’ for British farmers.
The proposal is one of the options being sketched out as part of ‘Project After’, the DIT’s plan for a no-deal scenario.
Several studies have shown a unilateral drop in tariffs would be catastrophic for UK farmers, with prices across all commodities plummeting as cheap imports from the rest of the world flood into the country.
NFU exit adviser Lucia Zitti said: “There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, so we welcome efforts by Government to plan for all eventualities.
“However, we strongly believe striking an ambitious trade deal with the EU must be a Government priority.
“Opening up our agricultural market unilaterally would take away any leverage to negotiate future trade agreements and would have disastrous consequences at farm level.
“The UK said it wants to replicate its existing trade regime as far as possible in its new schedule.
“We support the Government’s decision and would not want to see our level of tariff protection unilaterally dismantled.”
NFU Scotland’s political affairs manager Clare Slipper told Farmers Guardian ‘no deal’ was not an option for Scottish farmers and crofters.
“To unilaterally lower tariffs would cause irreversible damage to farming and have significant implications for rural communities and the wider economy”, she added.
“Sucking in food imports undermines the world-class standards of our domestic producers, exporting jobs as well as animal welfare and environmental responsibilities beyond our shores.”
Concerns about DIT’s understanding of how new trade policies could affect farming have been raised on several occasions.
In March, Farmers Guardian revealed Ministers from the department failed to have a single meeting with a farming group in the three months following the EU referendum – despite seeing representatives from the financial and banking sector 35 times.
And Trade Secretary Liam Fox later fuelled cheap food fears with his comments about an ‘open global trading environment’ lowering the price of food.
A Department for International Trade spokesman said: “As we prepare to leave the EU, we will seek to transition all existing EU trade arrangements to ensure the UK maintains the greatest amount of certainty, continuity and stability in our trade and investment relationships.
“We are confident we will find a deal which works for Britain and Europe too. But it is our responsibility to prepare for every eventuality and that is what we are doing.”