Government urged to prioritise EU in search for tariff-free trade
The next government must prioritise securing the continuation of tariff-free trade with the EU to avoid further upward pressure on food prices, the retail industry trade body has urged.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said securing the existing benefits of EU preferential trade agreements was more pressing than striking new deals with the rest of the world.
The BRC set out its position in a study entitled The Tariff Roadmap For The Next Government, part of its Fair Brexit For Consumers campaign.
Promoting the interests of consumers, "and we are all consumers", would lead to the fairest settlement for the UK as a whole, it said.
"Ensuring this journey is positive for retailers and consumers requires the Government to lead an orderly and sequenced process, where we renegotiate to continue across the board tariff-free arrangements with the EU before securing new trading relationships with the rest of the world.
"By preserving the openness in trade we already have with our existing partners in the short-term and reaping the benefits of new trade deals in the medium-term, consumers get continued a nd even greater access to a diverse range of goods at competitive prices," the report said.
It continued: "Beverages, fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are the UK's biggest imports from the EU and without continuation of tariff-free trade, tariffs could be as high as 46% for cheese or 21% for tomatoes.
"The weighted average tariff, if the UK were to default to World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs on UK food imports from the EU, would be 22%.
"Such a scenario would put upward pressure on consumer food prices."
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: "Ensuring the journey ahead is positive for both retailers and consumers requires an orderly and sequenced Brexit process.
"The first step is to mitigate the risks by securing the continuation of tariff-free trade with the EU, to avoid further upward pressure on food prices. Next, is the need to replicate the EU's existing deals with developing countries.
"Only then, should the Government look to realise the opportunities presented by new trading relationships with the rest of the world."
Commenting on the report, Leave Means Leave co-chairman Richard Tice said: "This report is totally flawed and unambitious for Britain.
"Firstly, it fails to realise that Britain is already a member of the WTO.
"Secondly, it wrongly assumes that we cannot start negotiating with other non-EU countries until after Britain formally leaves the EU in 2019.
"Thirdly, it falls into the trap set by the EU that we cannot negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU until we have agreed an exit deal. This is legally incorrect under Article 50.
"There is no need to have a two-year transition deal post Brexit day in 2019."
He added: "The BRC is, like many other lobbying groups for big business, trying to dilute Brexit and failing to spot the opportunities.
"This report should be ignored."