General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

'Thousands of jobs at risk,' warn unions

Frances O'Grady
PA
Frances O'Grady has led the TUC since 2013

Manufacturing unions have warned that the plan to make most imports tariff-free in the event of a no-deal Brexit would put "thousands of jobs at risk".

The TUC, Unite, GMB and Community say it would allow cheap imports to flood the market, putting thousands of jobs at risk and threatening key industries, such as steel, ceramics, tyres and glass.

“Ending tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit would be a hammer blow to our manufacturing industries and the communities they support.

“The government is flying blind, having introduced these plans without any consultation with the workers they will affect. We need a full and proper impact assessment," says TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady.

No clear 'winners and losers'

UK and EU flag
Getty Images

The rush to get the no-deal tariff plan out means there has been "no clear thought of likely winners and losers," says Nigel Driffield, professor of international business at Warwick Business School.

He says leaving the EU this month would leave no time for a cost-benefit analysis.

"Those who have argued that 'managed no deal' offers certainty could not be further from the truth.

"In trading terms there can be nothing more uncertain than not knowing ones trading schedule, in terms of both tariff and non-tariff barriers and other associated frictions," he says.

'Absolutely brutal'

cows milking
Getty Images
Under the plan, food producers in the Republic of Ireland would not face tariffs for sending their produce to Northern Ireland

This morning's tariff announcement is likely to "strengthen business opposition to a no-deal Brexit", according to The Times.

It has spoken to an unnamed cabinet minister, who describes the changes as "absolutely brutal."

“We haven’t published them before because we had to keep up the pretence that no-deal was still an option, but they show that actually no-deal is catastrophic," they tell the newspaper.

Irish plan 'quite extraordinary'

Irish border
Getty Images

Under the current proposals, Irish goods entering the Northern Ireland market will not face tariffs in a no deal Brexit.

However, Irish products entering the rest of the UK would face high tariffs on a range of food products.

John Campbell, BBC News NI economics & business editor, says what is being proposed "is quite extraordinary".

"You would have a scenario where if you're a food exporter in the Republic of Ireland and send stuff to Holyhead you will face tariffs, if you send it over the border to Newry you will not face tariffs.

However, you could have the situation where farmers and food producers in Northern Ireland trying to send their stuff in the other direction will face tariffs.

That will be up to the Irish government and the EU to decide.

So it will seriously undermine the competiveness of Northern Ireland farmers".

Read more here

'Unwelcome shock'

machine
Getty Images
The abrupt change would be a shock to many firms, the BCC says

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) says the new tariff regime - if it comes into effect - would be "an unwelcome shock" for many firms.

BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall says the abruptness of changes would create "winners and losers across UK industry overnight".

“While ministers have clearly listened to our arguments and maintained targeted protection in some areas, overall there has not been enough consultation, preparation or planning to support the firms and communities that could find themselves at the end of a sudden shift in tariffs," he adds.

'Sledgehammer to our economy'

Today Programme

BBC Radio 4

Carolyn Fairbairn
cbi

Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of business lobby group the CBI, says the tariffs - if they come into effect - would be "the biggest change in terms of trade since mid 19th century".

"These are being imposed on this country with no consultation with business, with no time to prepare. This is no way to run a country," she says.

"This imposition of new terms of trade comes at the same time as business blocked out of its closest trading partner," she says.

She warns the impact of a no-deal Brexit could be a "sledgehammer to our economy".

'A balanced approach'

Today Programme

BBC Radio 4

cows
Getty Images
Some industries, especially agriculture, will be protected

BBC business editor Simon Jack says the UK has taken a "balanced approach" to tariffs in the event of a no-deal.

"They've cut some and kept some in place, for example the tariff on sheep meat is exactly same as it is," he says.

He also says that the government did not consult businesses on its tariff plan, saying the topic was simply "too sensitive".

Could tariffs drop to zero?

shipping containers
BBC

Details on post Brexit trading tariffs in the event of a no-deal are set to be published later.

Reports last week suggested they could be drastic with cuts on between 80% and 90% of goods, with some tariffs being scrapped completely.

If you need a refresher on what tariffs are and what they aim to do, here's a handy explanation.

US garlic farming giant praises latest US tariffs on Chinese goods

Garlic on display
Getty Images

It's not particularly common to hear US agricultural or food businesses praising the higher tariffs on Chinese goods but California’s largest business garlic is feeling upbeat.

Ken Christopher who, along with his family operates Christopher Ranch, tells BBC's Asia Business Report that since the latest tariffs came into force last week – which included higher taxes on Chinese garlic – he has seen his company’s sales rise by 5% to 10%.

Christopher Ranch sells most of its product domestically and does not mix Chinese imported garlic into any of its products, so the tariffs are helping to level the playing field, he says.

"It's a very exciting time here in Gilroy, California. And we're hoping that this tariff is just the starting point.”