Plans by the UK and European Union to share quotas for cheap food imports after Brexit have come under fire from Australia.
Restrictions on how many products can be imported into the EU on favourable rates are set across the bloc and concerns have been raised internationally that exporters could take a financial hit when the UK quits.
The government has agreed with Brussels to divide up the goods that can be brought in on low or zero tariffs based roughly on current rates. It would mean products imported into the UK in higher numbers than other parts of the bloc would continue to be traded in similar numbers.
But Australia’s trade minister, Steven Ciobo, said the move would impose unacceptable restrictions on nations exporting to the bloc. “The point is that you have a choice about where you place your quota at the moment,” he told the BBC.
“Therefore, given that you could put it in the UK or you could put it into continental Europe, why would we accept a proposition that would see a decline in the quota available because of the Brexit decision?”
Other countries with concerns about the quota-splitting plan include the US, New Zealand, Brazil and Canada.
A spokesman for the UK’s Department for International Trade said: “As we leave the EU, we will need to update the terms of our World Trade Organisation membership to reflect an independent UK trade policy.
“We want to ensure a smooth transition which minimises the disruption to our trading relationships with other WTO members and tariff rate quotas are one of the issues that we are discussing with them”
“This is largely a technical process and we will continue to engage WTO members including Australia in an open, inclusive and transparent way.”
The shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, said the government had been warned about the danger of a dispute over the quota share deal. He also cautioned against accepting higher amounts of low-tariff imports of products such as lamb because of the impact it would have on UK farmers and the countryside.
“We warned the secretary of state, Liam Fox, about this a number of months ago and he said this was going to be very easy because it was not going to make any changes in the current total quota that the EU has,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Gardiner said the countries raising objections about the quota-sharing plan had a point and “this is something that is going to be a tougher negotiation than the government ever thought”.
He added: “We must not look at this simply as a matter of economics. It’s not simply about, ‘are we going to get cheaper lamb in the UK if we import a lot more from New Zealand?’ The real issue here is what these things do to our wider economy and the landscape of this country.
“As you affect farming, so you affect the way our country looks. That means you also affect the tourist trade.”
Source: The Guardian