Fears are growing that the dairy and pig sectors are being ‘overlooked’ by the Government as it puts together its no-deal tariff plans after Defra Ministers promised to consider only the needs of beef and sheep farmers.
The Cabinet is currently exploring how to set tariff levels in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but there has been no public consultation on the matter.
David Rutley, Defra’s Brexit Readiness Minister, told MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee last week that the outcome of these discussions would be made public ‘in the near future’.
He said: “As the tariff schedule is developed, we need to balance the interests of consumers and producers.
“We understand the needs of the sheep and the beef sectors and they will be given due consideration.”
Mr Rutley’s promise to consider the needs of beef and sheep farmers follows similar comments from Farming Minister George Eustice, who has previously said tariffs would be applied on ‘sensitive sectors’ such as beef and sheep.
This focus on beef and sheepmeat has left the pig industry unsettled, with the National Pig Association (NPA) saying it was concerned the needs of the sector would be ‘overlooked’ by Defra.
NPA senior policy adviser Ed Barker said: “There would be untold damage to the British pig sector if the Government waives tariffs in the event of no-deal.
“Our sector would be unable to compete with cheap imports produced to lower standards. Without special consideration from the Government, a no-deal would jeopardise the future of pork production in the UK, further increasing our reliance on imports.”
John Allen, managing partner, Kite Consulting, raised similar concerns about the dairy sector, claiming it was ‘naive’ to think import tariffs could be dropped without major disruption because they would still be applied to UK exports.
“It would take at least five years to get over this,” he said.
“I would not deny we have got a fairly competitive dairy industry, but we do export a significant amount of dairy commodity products.
“If we cannot remove those easily from the market, we are going to be damaged, because we will be able to carry on importing free of tariff Irish Cheddar and French cheeses.”
A Defra spokesman said: "While the sheep and beef sectors would be set to face the highest tariffs in a no deal, we do not underestimate the challenge for other sectors.
"Defra is working closely with the sector to understand how we can help farmers adjust and maintain trade continuity for both imports and exports."