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Brexit: Farming Tariffs

Volume 796: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of their proposed tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit on farming in the United Kingdom; and when such tariffs would expire.

My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. In developing their tariff policy, the Government considered the interests of consumers and domestic producers. In agriculture, there will be tariff rate quotas for beef, poultry, sugar and rice, as well as tariffs for lamb, pigmeat, butter and cheddar-type cheeses. Further tariffs will be retained on products such as bananas, where preferential access to the UK market is important for developing countries. This tariff regime would apply for up to 12 months.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. While I welcome these protections, I ask my noble friend why beef, lamb and dairy have been included but not eggs, cereals and horticulture, and why whole-animal products have been included but not specified meat cuts, which is the norm. Could he confirm that discussions were held with the Irish Government before the tariffs were announced and that approvals have been obtained from the World Trade Organization?

My Lords, the Government have sought to bring forward a balanced approach, which in part follows the five principles set out in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018. The first two are the interests of consumers in the UK and those of producers in the UK. We were conscious in our considerations that this would be a temporary tariff regime in the event of no deal—which I emphasise we do not wish—and that there were areas where we wanted to get the balance right in protecting sensitive sectors, such as the sheep sector, while there were other areas where though that prices to the consumer were also important.

We will obviously take very seriously our obligations under international law. We have taken into account the unique social, political and economic circumstances of Northern Ireland. I was not party to any discussions because that would be for other departments, but it is clear that in the event of no deal there would have to be immediate contingency arrangements and urgent discussions with the Irish Government and the Commission.

My Lords, why have the Government specifically excluded eggs from the proposals? We have much higher welfare standards for egg production in this country than many other countries that will seek to exploit our market. It seems a very odd omission and could seriously damage egg production in the UK.

My Lords, domestic production in eggs is around 86% of UK supply. The noble Lord mentioned questions of lower quality. We remain committed to high standards of food safety and animal welfare. Existing UK import standards will still apply. The level of tariff applied does not change what can and cannot be imported.

My Lords, can we assume that the Government are aware also of the serious dangers posed to agriculture by EU tariffs on our exports in the event of a no-deal Brexit? If, for example, our beef exports were to suffer the current EU tariff of 80% to 90% or our lamb industry were to export through a 35% to 40% tariff it would kill those two industries dead and undermine the agricultural economy of large swathes of our countryside.

My Lords, the Government take this very seriously. It is one reason why we have said that British farmers will have a higher level of certainty than anywhere else in Europe vis-à-vis total funds in farm support until the end of this Parliament. We have also provided farm support under Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 under the current CAP. However, we expect it to be one of the consequences of no deal that the EU’s most favoured nation tariff regime would apply to UK exports, which we think would cause disruption. It is why we have brought forward the tariff regime that we have and it is why we need to work to ensure that we do not have a no-deal scenario.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm the broad outline of the subsidy arrangements which will apply to the British agricultural industry following Brexit and the ending of EU subsidies?

My Lords, as I have said, this country has gone further. The CAP finishes in 2020 and we have pledged to continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament. If it runs until 2020—and of course no Parliament can bind its successors—that means a further two years of the same amount. This is why we are bringing forward our schemes for environmental land management, which will have the dual purpose of supporting farmers in their production of a good environment as well as good food.

My Lords, I confirm my interests as a farmer. I am worried about what has been said in terms of certainties and uncertainties. There should be one certainty for farmers—that the subsidies they have been promised on schemes they have entered into are paid on time. This is not the case and I would like to know why. In particular, under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, payments of 75% were due in January and 25% are due in June. The subsidies for January have not been paid. I would be interested to hear how these things are dealt with. The farmers have made their commitments and paid the money necessary to claim under these schemes.

My Lords, the Secretary of State has said from the start that he is not happy about the manner in which payments for countryside stewardship and environmental stewardship have been paid. This is why they have been transferred to the Rural Payments Agency. Progress is now being made, but I agree that we have to do better in this area.