U.K.'s Gove Pledges to Protect Farmers in a No-Deal Brexit
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Environment Secretary Michael Gove pledged to protect British farmers and uphold food standards if the country leaves the European Union without a deal.
The government, which plans to make an announcement this month on import tariffs in the event of a no-deal exit, will take the needs of British food producers into account to minimize the risk of leaving them at a competitive disadvantage. The U.K. also won’t compromise high food standards in pursuit of trade deals, Gove said at a National Farmers’ Union conference Tuesday.
There are mounting concerns that export tariffs under a no-deal Brexit could effectively shut the British farm industry out of being able to sell produce to the EU, where about two-thirds of its exports currently go. And if the U.K. lowers import duties to stem food inflation, that could also mean more competition in the domestic market.
“We have been clear - across government - that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of trade deals, and that we will use all the tools we have at our disposal to make sure standards are protected and you are not left at a competitive disadvantage,” Gove told the farming industry at the conference in Birmingham, England.
NFU President Minette Batters reiterated that it would be a “catastrophe” for British farming if the country exits the bloc without a deal. The U.K.’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has said the industry could be one of the most affected by a no-deal exit, with the biggest threats being the loss of overseas markets and potentially more competition from imported food.
At today’s conference, Gove said the aim is to strike a balance between safeguarding British farming and ensuring consumer access to quality food at competitive prices.
“I can’t preempt the announcement that should be made later this week, but one thing I can reassure you is that it will not be the case that we will have zero-rate tariffs on food products,” Gove said. “There will be protections for sensitive sections of agriculture and food production. Beyond that I can’t say at the moment.”
The U.K. dairy and livestock industries are facing the biggest challenges without a decent Brexit deal, Gove said. If European buyers switch suppliers because tariffs make U.K. exports significantly more expensive, it’ll be difficult to recoup those lost markets even if tariffs come down in the future, he said.
Gove said he’s also trying to ensure that foreign nationals can continue to work in the U.K. agriculture sector. Many of Britain’s seasonal workers come from other EU nations, and there have already been signs of labor shortages emerging.
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