Friday, May 11, 2018

Choices on food policy

The House of Lords European Committee has published a report on Brexit: Food Prices and Availability: Food Prices

The report finds: 'If an agreement [with the EU] cannot be negotiated, Brexit is likely to result in an average tariff on food imports of 22%. While this would not equate to a 22% increase in food prices for consumers, there can be no doubt that prices paid at the checkout would rise. To counteract this the Government could cut tariffs on all food imports, EU and non-EU, but this would pose a serious risk of undermining UK food producers who could not compete on price.'

'At least as significant as tariffs are the non-tariff barriers that may result from Brexit. The Government remains confident that it can secure an agreement that would allow ‘frictionless’ imports of food from the EU to continue, but it is unclear how that would be possible outside of the customs union. Any such agreement would be likely to require the UK to mirror all EU standards and regulations; a condition the UK Government may find politically difficult to accept.'

'If no agreement is reached, and food imports from the EU are subject to the same customs and border checks as non-EU imports, the UK does not have the staff, IT systems or physical infrastructure to meet that increased demand. Any resulting delays could choke the UK’s ports and threaten the availability of some food products for UK consumers. The Government’s proposed alternative is to allow EU imports through with no, or very few, checks: this raises safety concerns as well as questions over how customs charges would be processed.'

'As well as securing a deal with the EU that will allow continued tariff-free, frictionless imports of food, the Government must also secure agreements with the non-EU countries from which the UK currently imports food as part of EU trade agreements. 40 such agreements are currently in place, covering 56 countries and accounting for more than 11% of UK food imports. The Government’s belief that most can be simply and easily ‘rolled over’ is not shared by those who have given evidence to previous EU Committee inquiries.'

The report concludes, 'The Government should develop a comprehensive food security policy for the UK. A long-term view is needed on whether to prioritise food standards or food prices, whether to reverse the UK’s declining self-sufficiency or increase imports. Other factors should include workforce shortages, priorities for investment, and bigger, global issues such as the impact of climate change on food production worldwide.'

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