UK industry body Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has described the government’s announcement of proposed temporary tariffs on imported goods as “disgraceful”.

FDF chief executive Ian Wright expressed frustration the proposed table of tariffs – which includes food products – was announced this morning without consultation with industry.

“Today’s announcement on tariffs underlines why the UK is not ready to exit the EU on 29 March. Business cannot adapt to this new regime in just two weeks. It is disgraceful that we are, only now, getting to see these,” he said.

“There must be proper consultation with business before a change of this magnitude is introduced. We were promised that business would only have to adapt to one new change of rules; it’s now clear that promise has not been kept.”

The UK government announced imports into the UK of beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and some dairy imports would be subject to tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which would see the country leaving the EU on 29 March without a trade agreement.

The Government said that, while 87% of imports would be tariff-free, tariffs would be maintained on certain foods to “support farmers and producers who have historically been protected through high EU tariffs”. The temporary import tariffs will not apply to goods crossing from Ireland into Northern Ireland.

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By GlobalData

There have been questions within industry about whether the proposed measures would contravene World Trade Organization “most favoured nation” (MFN) rules. The regulations mean countries cannot normally discriminate between their trading partners. Granting one country or market dispensation means offering the same for all other WTO members.

The UK Department of International Trade declined to comment but just-food understands the Government is confident the plans don’t violate the MFN rules as the planned measures are temporary and take into account what London sees as Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances.

Wright dismissed the plans as “confusing and complex”.

He added: “It includes some zero tariffs, some new tariffs and some quotas. Some foodstuffs qualify for partial protection and some not for any protection at all, with little logic to explain the difference.  

“New tariffs will apply to some foods that are currently imported tariff-free, yet no tariffs will be applied to goods that cross the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is likely to result in massive trade distortions.

“In a world where it is costly and complex to export finished goods to the EU, and costly and complex to import key ingredients, many food and drink manufacturers who trade with the EU will surely question whether the UK is the right place for them to be.”

The tariffs announcement this morning followed the vote in the House of Commons last night (12 March) in which UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Bill was defeated by 149 votes, leaving a no-deal Brexit as a real possibility.