Six influential countries, including the US and Australia, are piling pressure on the EU to reduce its tariffs on agricultural goods – tariffs the UK is set to replicate after Brexit.
According to AgraEurope, trade diplomats from the two countries, as well as those from Argentina, Brazil, Canada and New Zealand, criticised the union’s high and complex tariffs at a recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting.
The Government has promised to keep tariffs the same as the EU’s – at least initially – to ‘minimise disruption to global trade’ after Brexit, but the UK is sure to face the same pressure to reduce them as it becomes a WTO member in its own right.
The NFU said it would have ‘serious concerns’ about this as production standards across WTO members vary significantly.
Tom Keen, the union’s Brexit and international affairs adviser, said: “We are urging the Government to seriously take into account the production standards of imported produce when negotiating trade deals and to ensure UK farmers upholding high standards are not put at a competitive disadvantage to overseas producers subject to different standards.
“This applies when agreeing any tariff rates – Most Favoured Nation tariffs [for WTO members] – or those under any future trade deals.”
At the WTO meeting, Brazil raised concerns about 138 per cent tariffs on oilseeds and 146 per cent tariffs on fruit and vegetables, as well the EU’s refusal to include ethanol and beef in the potential new trade deal with the Mercosur bloc of which it is a member.
Higher tariffs on processed products and steep out-of-quota duties were also slammed.
A European Commission spokesman told Farmers Guardian the discussion was ‘frank but moderate’.
“It is important to emphasise the EU is today the world’s largest importer of agricultural products and has concluded and continues to negotiate ambitious free trade agreements to reduce agricultural tariffs in bilateral trade”, he added.
“The EU import regime for agricultural products is fully transparent and predictable and is contained in the EU’s schedule, as accepted and bound as part of the Uruguay Round Agreement.”