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Import tariffs will cost UK billions if we vote for Brexit, warns trade chief

By David Hughes and Ben Wood

Published 26/05/2016

Belfast Harbour is one of Northern Ireland's main hubs of import and export activity
Belfast Harbour is one of Northern Ireland's main hubs of import and export activity

A fresh warning about the potential economic cost of a Brexit has been issued by the head of the World Trade Organisation, who warned import tariffs would cost the country billions.

WTO director general Roberto Azevedo said the UK would have to negotiate membership of the organisation - as it is currently represented by the EU - and trade deals with countries around the world.

The intervention came as research from think-thank the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) said Northern Ireland was one of three UK regions, along with the North East and South West, which depended heavily on free trade in goods with other EU countries, and was therefore had more to lose in the event of a Brexit.

And it also said that Northern Ireland was the second-biggest recipient of EU economic development funds in the UK, behind Wales. The province has received more than £170m in EU funding over the last two years, including money for roads, business development, job creation and other funding streams.

Yesterday, rival camps in the referendum debate also clashed over a stark warning about the potential impact of a Brexit from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), with David Cameron hailing it as the "independent gold standard" but Leave campaigners claimed it was influenced by funding from Brussels.

The WTO estimated the cost of additional tariffs on goods imports to British consumers after a Brexit would amount to £9bn, while British merchandise exports would be subject to a further £5.5bn in tariffs.

Mr Azevedo told the Financial Times: "The consumer in the UK will have to pay those duties. The UK is not in a position to decide 'I'm not charging duties here'. That is impossible. That is illegal."

Setting out the scale of the challenge facing the UK if it voted to Leave on June 23, Mr Azevedo said: "Pretty much all of the UK's trade would somehow have to be negotiated."

Meanwhile, new analysis from the Office for National Statistics suggests that Britain made an average net contribution to the EU budget of £7.1bn per year between 2010-2014. But there was no regional breakdown of the figures.

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