‘Tariffs post-Brexit will depend on what sort of agriculture policy UK follows’

Tariffs on food post-Brexit between Ireland and the UK will depend on what sort of food and agriculture policy the UK decides to follow outside the EU, John Bruton, the former Taoiseach has said.

Bruton was speaking at the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) AGM in the Castletroy Park Hotel in Limerick this week on Brexit.

“The tariff issue will be particularly difficult in the food sector, because this is the sector in which the EU has the highest tariffs, and restrictions, on third country imports in order to protect the incomes of EU farmers.

“Everything depends on what sort of food and agriculture policy the UK decides to follow outside the EU.”

Will they go for a ‘cheap food’ policy like they had before they joined the EU 40 years ago or will they retain current supports for farmers and rural life?

“There is no indication so far as the what choice they will make, at least after 2020.”

Regarding the negotiation of the treaty covering the future framework of relations between the EU and the UK, the former Taoiseach said that this negotiation will take in matters of direct relevance to ICMSA members.

Bruton said that the these matters will include:

1. Whether the EU Common External Tariff will have to be levied on agricultural products coming into Ireland from the UK, or Northern Ireland.

2. How the origin of imports from the UK will be verified to ensure that they are not dumping third country products on our market.

3. How veterinary and food safety standards will be verified, and how and by whom smuggling will be suppressed.

4. Whether geographic indicators will be recognised.

5. If there will be a tariff free quota to allow existing trade levels to continue or if all trade will bear the appropriate tariff.

Bruton said that negotiations about product safety, rules of origin, and related issues will arise with all products and services, even those to which no tariff applies, because once it has left the EU, the UK will be free to depart from recognised EU standards.

“If the UK rejects the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, as Prime Minister May says she will, there will no longer be a referee to interpret the rules of the shared market, and all markets need a referee.”

Meanwhile, Bruton said that if one wants to assess the likely complexity of a Future Framework Agreement the UK and the EU will have to negotiate with one another, one has only to look at the content of the Agreement the EU has concluded with Canada.

As well as tariffs and trade, that agreement had to cover

  • Product testing and standards – would each side recognise the other side’s tests for every product or would there be duplication?
  • Mutual recognition of professional qualifications, a huge field.
  • The right of EU and UK firms to sell goods and services to government entities in one another’s jurisdictions.
  • Protection from discrimination against EU investors in the UK and vice versa.
  • Access to fishing grounds.

The EU and the UK negotiators will not only have to reach agreement on the substance of how these matters are to be handled, Bruton said, but they will also have to agree a procedure for settling disputes about interpretation, because the UK, outside the EU, will not accept the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).