Farmer concern over UK plan to cut tariffs on US agri imports

Liz Truss, who is leading US and UK trade talks, is reportedly planning a 'big concession package' which would see tariffs slashed on US food imports
Liz Truss, who is leading US and UK trade talks, is reportedly planning a 'big concession package' which would see tariffs slashed on US food imports

The UK government is preparing to offer a 'big concession package' to the US which includes a plan to cuts tariffs on agri imports, reports say.

International trade secretary Liz Truss is offering incentives to help finalise a trade deal with the United States, according to the Financial Times.

Officials told the paper that the Department for International Trade had proposed a reduction on the cost of some agricultural imports.

They stressed, however, that the government was not looking at changing British food and farming standards to align with the US.

It comes as UK farming groups recently reiterated the need to protect environmental and welfare standards as trade talks between the two countries got underway last week.

The first round of delayed video-conference negotiations involved hundreds of officials and is expected to last two weeks with future talks every six weeks.

But Ms Truss, who is leading the trade talks, is reportedly facing internal opposition from Defra Secretary George Eustice, who is concerned over the impact lower standard food imports would have on British farming.

NFU international trade director Nick von Westenholz told the paper that farmers would be 'very concerned' about the proposals.

“Any concessions UK negotiators give on market access – such as lower or zero tariffs on agricultural goods – must be accompanied by clear conditions on how those goods have been produced,” he said.

“Anything else would represent a clear breach of the government’s own explicit red lines in trade negotiations.”

Labour's shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry echoed this, saying that the UK needs a government that would 'stand up for farmers and consumers' in trade negotiations.

"A trade deal designed to benefit the big American agri corporations may help Trump’s chances of re-election, but it can only be delivered at the expense of food standards in Britain and the competitiveness of our domestic farming sector."

A Department for International Trade official said, however, that the proposal to slash tariffs had not been finalised.

"The US-UK negotiations only started last week — it is far too early to talk about any tariff changes," the official explained.

"We’ve been clear that we will get a deal that works for the whole UK, including our farmers. Any trade deals must be reciprocal too.”

It comes as MPs rejected an amendment to protect farmers from lower-standard food imports as the Agriculture Bill reached the Report Stage and Third Reading on Wednesday (13 May).

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair Neil Parish, who tabled the amendment, said it was 'disappointing' and that there are now 'grave concerns' over the future direction of the Bill.