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NPA calls on Government to maintain EU pork tariffs in future trade deals

12th Mar 2020 / By Alistair Driver

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

ShipIn the NPA’s submission to the Department for International Trade's consultation on the UK global tariff, senior policy adviser Ed Barker stresses the importance for the pig sector of securing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU.

This must be accompanied by the continuation of the current tariff regime the EU applies. 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, the document warns.

It points out 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 NPA is clear that 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 says.

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.

Import standards

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

The document highlights aspects of US and Canadian production that are illegal in the UK. These include:

  • Use of feed additive ractopamine and hormone use in the US. Ractopamine is banned by the EU and other WTO members.
  • The majority of US states are 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.
  • The use of antibiotics for growth promotion, banned in the UK, is still permitted in the US.
  • It is legally permissible to castrate male piglets in the US, and there are no laws around when it should be done or around the use of analgesia or anaesthetics. The practice is banned under the Red Tractor assurance scheme, which covers 95% of the UK pig herd.

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.

“Even taking into account WTO SPS measures, both the USA and Canada would be able to comfortably undercut EU and UK production, and seriously compromise domestic production,” the document adds.

The NPA stresses that where other countries can demonstrate that they are able to meet the UK’s pig production standards, then imports should not be blocked or stifled, but says this can only be done via FTAs.

A mishandling of the UK’s tariff policy could ‘seriously undermine’ the UK pork sector’s growing export markets, the document adds.