Keep EU tariffs or risk undermining UK pork sector, farmers say

British pig producers have called on government to maintain EU pork tariffs in future trade deals
British pig producers have called on government to maintain EU pork tariffs in future trade deals

A mishandling of the UK's tariff policy could ‘seriously undermine’ the pork sector’s growing export markets, pig producers have warned.

The importance of maintaining current tariffs on non-EU pork imports after the current Brexit transition period ends on 31 December has been stressed.

In the National Pig Association's submission to the government's consultation on the UK global tariff, it highlights urgency in securing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU.

This must be accompanied by the continuation of the current tariff regime the EU applies, the group says.

Reverting to the sort of tariffs proposed by the government last year in the event of a no-deal would put the industry at ‘serious risk’ of being undercut by imports produced to standards outlawed in the UK.

Aspects of US pig production are illegal in the UK, including the use of feed additive ractopamine and hormone use. Ractopamine is banned by the EU and other WTO members.

The majority of US states are also permitted by law to keep sows in stalls for their entire 16-week gestation period. Sow stalls have been banned in the UK since 1999.

Recent AHDB analysis shows, as a result of these variables, that the average cost of US pork production is 40% lower than the UK’s.

The NPA's document adds that the UK pork market is unique in that the total trade is largely confined within the EU.

“As a result of this, it is hard to envisage a total UK Common External Tariff (CET), or model of it, based upon a trading scenario where there is not a trade agreement with the EU at the end of the transition period,” the submission states.

Around 60% of pork demand in the UK is met by imported product. If there is no EU trade agreement on January 1, 2021, applying current EU tariffs to EU pork imports ‘would lead to inevitable pork supply constraints’.

“Government would therefore need to consider how this shortfall of product could be met without compromising on animal welfare and food production standards from non-EU pork importing countries,” the NPA points out.

Assuming that the UK and EU agree a free-trade agreement, the group said the EU’s CET should be replicated for the UK in imported meat products such as pork.

“This would not only ensure that consumer prices remain affordable, but it is also the only way that the UK can guarantee that pork has been produced to standards that are legal to produce to in the UK and EU,” the document adds.

The NPA response identifies a number of key pork products, including fresh or chilled boneless pork and hams and for each one, states and proposes no changes to the existing tariff rates – assuming a deal is struck with the EU on tariffs.

The government’s no deal tariff schedule last year proposed a dramatic reduction in tariffs on pork products to an average of around 5%.

The document explains how reducing non-EU tariff rates to these sorts of rates would ‘place the UK pork sector seriously at risk from having its market undercut’ by the US and Canada, both of which have sought access to the EU market.

Elsewhere, South American countries also see the EU and UK as a longer term aspiration for pork exports.