The Scottish Government has offered Defra Secretary Michael Gove an alternative to dropping all food tariffs to keep food prices down in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Late last year, Farmers Guardian learned Number 10 and the Department for Exiting the EU had asked Defra to look at a plan to drop food tariffs for all World Trade Organisation (WTO) members if a deal with the EU could not be reached.
The Department of International Trade was also said to be considering the proposal as early as 2017, but the option is being re-examined as fears about potential food price spikes grow.
Several studies have shown a unilateral drop in tariffs would be ‘disastrous’ for UK farmers, with prices across all commodities plummeting as cheap imports from the rest of the world flood into the country.
Now, following MPs’ rejection of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has written to Mr Gove to ask him to consider ‘targeted use’ of Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) to ensure a continued supply of affordable food in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
TRQs would allow limited amounts of agricultural produce from across the world to enter the UK with low or no tariffs.
Mr Ewing’s letter reads: “As the prospects of a no-deal Brexit come ever closer, I write to impress upon you the need for the UK Government to deal sensibly and sensitively with the setting of applied tariffs for imports to the UK, particularly in relation to agri-food products.
“While lowering tariffs could mitigate the effect on consumers, by opening the floodgates it risks considerable harm to our domestic producers.
“It also gives away much of the negotiating capital for the future trade agreements which you prize.
“I understand your officials have been considering a ‘wide spectrum’ of options to deal with this issue, although there has been little clarity to date on precisely which options are being considered.
“To assist in this process, my officials have provided to yours a proposal for the targeted use of tariff rate quotas to achieve a balance in the protection of both consumer and producer interests, as well as maintaining negotiating capital.”