The EU is considering applying tariffs to British agri-food exports as a way of ‘punishing’ the UK if it chooses to boost competitiveness by lowering regulatory standards.
Farmers Guardian understands officials in Brussels are looking at including a ‘punishment clause’ in any future UK-EU trade deal.
The clause would allow the bloc to impose tariffs on any sector as retaliation for diverging from EU regulatory standards – so a loosening of the rules governing the metals industry, for example, could trigger tariffs on UK lamb.
This would leave British farmers particularly vulnerable, as food is one of the UK’s biggest exports to the EU.
£11 billion worth of agri-food exports go to other member states every year.
Lucia Zitti, Brexit and international trade adviser at the NFU, said: “The trade negotiations between the UK and the EU have not even started, therefore it is hard to anticipate what is going to be part of the future agreement.
“In the context of a bilateral negotiation, such a clause could be included only if both parties agreed to it.
“In this event, there could be a risk for UK agri-food exports to the EU to be the target of sanctions as they are crucial for the UK domestic market balance.”
MEP Julie Girling, who represents South West England and is a member of the EU’s agriculture committee, said she was aware of such a clause being discussed, but denied it was a punitive measure.
“The title ‘punishment clause’ has been dreamed up by hard line Brexiteers to imply Brussels intransigence”, she added.
“In fact, it is nothing more than exploring mechanisms which ensure ongoing compliance with the conditions agreed for a trade deal.
“It is perfectly reasonable and not unexpected.”
One way to avoid any ‘punishment clause’ would be for the UK to remain in the single market and customs union – a move ruled out by the Government but which European farming group Copa and Cogeca called for this week.
Copa president Joachim Rukwied said: “It is crucial to minimise any disruption to trade and to make sure farmers do not end up paying the price of Brexit.
“We need a comprehensive trade agreement which will keep the UK in the single market and customs union to allow free trade with the EU and minimise non-tariff barriers to trade.”