Thursday 14 May 2020 8:10 am

UK ready to slash tariffs on US agricultural imports in free trade talks - report

The UK is ready to cut tariffs on US agricultural imports in order to move talks closer to securing a free trade deal, it is reported.

The Department for International Trade is looking at a “big concession package” to US negotiators in the next few months to cut the cost of some agricultural imports, the Financial Times reported.

It cited government officials who said UK trade minister Liz Truss is spearheading the package of tariff cuts.

However, Truss faces opposition from environment secretary George Eustice, who fears reducing agricultural import tariffs could undercut British farmers.

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has also raised concerns about the proposed cuts, the FT reported.

Senior Defra officials said cutting such tariffs could be “the thin end of the wedge”. They fear such a concession package could lead the UK to give more ground on animal welfare standards.

However, one trade department official said the package is still a draft.

“The US-UK negotiations only started last week — it is far too early to talk about any tariff changes,” they told the FT.

“We’ve been clear that we will get a deal that works for the whole UK, including our farmers. Any trade deals must be reciprocal too.”

Free trade negotiations between the UK and US formally began last week with an aim to secure a speedy deal. Both parties want to offset the huge economic fallout both economies face from their coronavirus lockdowns.

And the virtual talks will reportedly comprise more than 300 US and UK staff and officials in almost 30 negotiating groups.

There is strong opposition in Britain to US agricultural practices, like genetically modified crops and antibacterial washes for chicken.

US and UK goods trade came to $127.1bn in 2018, and both exchanged a roughly equal amount of goods. Services trade was worth almost $135bn the same year.