Britain should abolish tariffs on food imports after a hard Brexit to bring down prices that the EU has forced up by “stymying” trade deals, a leading think tank has said.
As Britain reels at the prospect of Brexit meaning an influx of chlorinated chicken from America, Policy Exchange said phasing out tariffs could cut prices and simplify trade deals after leaving the Customs Union, in its Farming Tomorrow report published on Tuesday.
Warwick Lightfoot, director of research at the centre right think tank, said: “Leaving the European Union allows us to think again about agricultural policy from first principles. The starting point for policy reform must be the consumer.
“The EU’s historic reluctance to open up trade in food products has repeatedly stymied trade deals and led to higher prices for consumers and a distorted farming industry. The UK can now lead the world in cutting tariffs and being a champion of free trade in agriculture.”
Policy Exchange, which has previously said staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union was not in Britain’s long-term interests, said in its latest report that food prices rose 14% between 2006 and 2013 and, while they are now falling, they remain higher than elsewhere.
It said the EU’s agricultural tariffs are three times higher than the average EU tariff.
The report said Britain could maintain high tariffs but said it would be “a more radical alternative... to unilaterally lower and ultimately eliminate tariffs”.
“The direct fiscal consequences of this would be relatively modest — tariffs only bring in around £2.5 billion to the Exchequer a year — and it would require no complicated negotiations to implement,” the report said.
“Both New Zealand and Australia are near this, applying the equivalent of only a 0.4 per cent tariff to agriculture, or 1.3 per cent including subsidies.”
Policy Exchange also advocated a post-Brexit agricultural policy that focussed more on foresty than the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and could “reward farmers who deliver public goods like biodiversity and flood prevention, rather than rewarding wealthy landowners”.
Lightfoot added: “Reform of the CAP also offers a once in a generation chance to reform Britain’s environmental policy, and ensure that we leave the environment better than we found it.”
“For the first time in over 40 years, we can have a proper land management policy which balances agriculture with other land uses like forestry: outside the EU we can plant more trees.”