Creed: UK tariff regime ‘not a pretty picture’

Michael Creed, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, has responded to the UK’s planned tariff regime in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, saying it is “potentially a disaster”.

Speaking to Sean O’ Rourke on RTE Radio 1, the minister said that his department is conducting a “detailed exercise of analysis” on what the implications of these tariffs will be for Ireland, claiming “it’s not a pretty picture; there’s no point in sugarcoating this”.

“We have a team from the department in Brussels now, on foot of this announcement, working on what kind of interventions would be required if this was to become a reality,” he said.

The UK announced its temporary tariff regime this morning (Wednesday, March 13) that would take effect in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In some areas it applies the full World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariff, while in others it has decided to apply less than the full WTO rate.

However, goods imported into Northern Ireland will not be subject to tariffs.

“It is not the full WTO tariff regime. The UK has been selective, and, I suppose understandably so, self-serving in what it wants to achieve,” said Minister Creed.

He explained: “For example, in the area of sheep meat, which would be the UK’s most exposed sector to the EU market, they have applied 100% of the WTO tariff regime. The tariffs for other commodities vary less than the full WTO regime.

It’s important to say: This is in the event of a no deal; and we’re not there yet.

“On beef they’re applying half of the tariff regime. If they were to apply full tariffs, it would have cost in the region of €700 million. Either of those are pretty challenging to deal with,” said the minister.

Minister Creed argued that a regime of this kind would lead to significant food price inflation in the UK – which, he suggested, was part of the reasoning behind it.

“This is targeted at those who oppose a withdrawal agreement; maybe to try and bring them to their senses in terms of what a ‘no deal’ looks like,” he claimed.

The minister also addressed the issue of cheaper imports from other countries entering the UK market, which would present challenges to Irish produce there.

“Over a period of time, producers that have a much lower cost base, who do not produce to the same standards that we are involved in, will be able to undermine our offering on the UK supermarket shelves,” Minister Creed argued.

He also claimed that the UK’s decision to exclude Northern Ireland from this tariff regime was “extraordinary”.

We have had a situation where, at the insistence of the UK government, our position of ensuring no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was applied to the whole of the UK by way of the backstop; we now have, at the UK’s own hand, a bespoke regime for the north.

However, the minister said this situation needs to be examined in the context of moving Irish produce beyond Northern Ireland into the rest of the UK.

“It does raise considerable questions about our produce possibly moving into the UK as a means to avoid tariffs; it’s a detail we’re trying to understand,” he argued.