Why tariffs are important in keeping Britain's farm welfare standards post Brexit
A guest blog by David Bowles, our head of public affairs.
While the Government has made a big thing about their manifesto commitment to ensure our high animal welfare standards continue in any future trade negotiation - their actions are not offering much comfort so far...
In last week's debate on the Agriculture Bill (which is the biggest reform for British farming for over 70 years!) the Government didn't support a change which would have meant that products produced to lower than our legal standards could be imported into the UK.
Two weeks ago we also started free trade negotiations with the USA and Japan and are expected to start negotiations with Australia this month. So expect more on the chlorine chicken question as those negotiations progress...
Why are these laws so important?
The UK is only around 60% self-sufficient in food and so has to import the remainder (of which a huge 79% comes from the EU). If we don't get a deal with the EU by July (and some sources are saying the odds are heavily stacked against one) then the food we eat has to come from somewhere else, likely, the USA, Australia or Ukraine.
The problem is, in countries such as these, the legal farm animal welfare standards are below the UK's standards. This could mean, in the post-brexit future, some of the meat, eggs and cheese we will be eating will have been farmed in ways that we don't agree with and know to be inhumane.
At present we're still part of the EU trade regime (while we legally left the EU on January 31, we're still tied into the trade regime and legislation until at least January 1 2021). This do means that we're still shielded by EU's tariff regime.
The EU has high tariff rates of 40-70% for commonly imported food such as eggs, chicken meat, lamb and pigmeat. These are essentially taxes which make it uneconomic for producers in other countries to export their meat or eggs to the EU (if they have to pay an additional 40-70% on top of their production costs). This effectively limits imports of these products into the EU and ensures the EU's higher farm animal welfare standards can be maintained.
On May 19th, the UK Government announced its tariffs for 2021. Finally, this was a test of the UK's commitment to uphold its welfare standards. Would they go for the free trade direction and reduce farm tariffs across the board (as they proposed last year) or keep them to ensure our welfare standards can be maintained. I'm pleased to say they did the latter.
So, what's the current situation?
Tariffs are not being reduced to any significant extent on beef, lamb, pork or eggs. Dried and liquid eggs used in quiches and ice cream are perhaps the easiest to import and most difficult to trace as they can easily be transported and cannot be labelled.
The good news is that the Government only slightly reduced tariffs on these, which means that any imported dried eggs would have to pay a tax of nearly a third before entering the UK. This makes it uneconomic for the producer in a country like the USA to export to the UK and means British mayonnaise will probably still be made with British eggs, preferably free-range.
While we applaud this move, these tariffs only apply to those countries with which the UK does not have a trade agreement. Trade rules are managed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Whilst this includes, at present, the vast majority of WTO members (including possibly the EU) it would not include those such as USA and Australia where we are hoping to strike trade agreements. This is where the Government's commitment to animal welfare will be tested again, and finding out what deals are being struck in secret will be vital.
We will continue to put Britain's farm animals first by calling for the UK to be open with its trade negotiations and put its manifesto commitment into legislation. For now, we're happy for Britain's free-range egg farmers and those farmers rearing pigs without farrowing crates. And of course for all the animals being kept under these higher welfare systems now and moving forward.