Customs Union announcement could put UK sector up against cheaper imports

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Barclay Bell has said he is “concerned” that the UK wants to apply its own tariffs and trade policy for goods intended for the UK market.

The comments follow a Brexit speech by the Prime Minister on Friday on the UK’s future economic partnership with the European Union in which she stated it was likely the UK would pull out of the Customs Union.

Theresa May said existing models of EU trade agreements would not work.

Bell explained it meant the UK could make deals to set low import tariffs with countries such as the USA, potentially putting locally-produced food made to high standards in competition with imports made to lower standards.

‘Major concerns’

Bell said: “Since the outset of this process, it has been one of our major concerns to ensure that production here is not undermined by inferior imports.

“However, we are encouraged that the UK Government has recognised the high environmental and animal welfare standards of the UK agri-food industry and that these standards will remain at least as high as the EU’s.

“The Government has recognised that this would constrain the UK’s ability to lower regulatory standards, which would be a particularly important issue in any future trade deals, but also acknowledged that, if this happened, the British public would rightly punish any government that did so.”

Future agriculture policy

In terms of agricultural policy specifically, the Government’s intention to leave the Common Agricultural Policy and reform the management of our agriculture industry is clear.

“It is essential that, if this happens, we would take the opportunities which this would bring – to develop a policy which both encourages and supports sustainable, profitable farming and food production going forward,” added the UFU president.

“While it is encouraging to see the Prime Minister setting out the UK Government’s broad position more clearly, there is still a substantive amount of more detailed work to be done.”