UK could introduce food tarrifs for countries with lower safety standards
The Guardian reported that Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, said that for a country such as the UK to insist on being able to maintain its own high standards on environmental protections would be legal under WTO rules.
According to The Guardian, the Environment Secretary has suggested that the UK could introduce tariffs on food imports from countries with lower food safety and farming standards than the UK, using and abiding by World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
“We want to ensure all our food comes from countries that meet our standards,” Theresa Villiers reportedly told an audience of farmers at the Oxford Farming Conference. “That is what the powerful tools of the WTO do, they enable us to impose tariffs where we believe products do not meet our high standards.”
The suggestion followed a statement by Villiers that farming would be a key component of any post-Brexit trade deal. “Absolutely, there will be pressure on agriculture [in trade negotiations], there always is,” she reportedly said. “Agriculture is always the last chapter to close on a trade deal.
“We put in our manifesto our commitment to our standards of food safety and food security, animal welfare and the environment,” she continued. “That is what we will put on the table.”
Rob Percival, Head of Food and Health Policy at the Soil Association, commented: “Villiers’s suggestion that tariffs could be placed on imports that do not meet UK standards suggests the government is looking for ways to support UK farming, but such piecemeal measures need to be part of a coherent trade policy, which we are yet to see. This policy and the ensuing legislation must ensure non-regression on environment, food and farming standards, and ensure the UK can continue to raise the bar in response to the climate and nature emergency.”
Mark Bridgeman, President of the Country Land and Business Association, which represents landowners and rural businesses, reportedly said that farmers were worried about the transition to a new subsidy system, in which farmers’ payment will be moved from the amount of land farmed to new agreements surrounding environmental protection.
“Farmers are already starting to plan for 2021 and beyond, so we need early clarity on how direct payments will be reduced during the whole transition period. There are serious risks to many farming businesses if there are major reductions in direct payments before the introduction of the new system,” Bridgeman said.