The British Retail Consortium has warned consumers face the prospect of higher prices if no free trade deal is agreed with the European Union before the end of the transition period in December with possible tariffs amounting to GBP3.1bn (US$3.9bn) a year on food and drink.

The trade association cited the Government’s tariff schedule published in May, which will take effect from 1 January, stating 85% of foods imported from the EU will face tariffs of more than 5% if no deal is reached. And further, the average tariff on food imported from the bloc would be over 20%, including 48% on beef mince, 16% on cucumbers, 10% on lettuce, and 57% on cheddar cheese.

The BRC said it had long been advocating a “zero-tariff, zero-quota” trade deal between the UK and EU under its Fair Deal for Consumers campaign and warned consumers can ill afford higher prices when they are already struggling with the implications of coronavirus.

Both supermarkets and their customers will face GBP3.1bn a year of tariffs, it said. And an increase in physical checks at borders, the extra paperwork, and other non-tariff barriers will push up the cost for retailers even more.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC ,said in a statement: “There is no time to waste, the UK and EU must hammer out a final arrangement as soon as possible. Coronavirus is already making life hard for consumers, particularly those on lower incomes and, a no-deal Brexit will have a massive impact on their ability to afford essential goods.

“UK consumers have benefited from great value, quality, and choice of food thanks to our ability to trade tariff free with the EU. There is now the risk of a GBP3bn tax bill for the food we cannot source here in the UK.”

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