Beef cow and calf

A new beef TRQ could cause non-EU beef imports to surge by 1,300%

The UK might face a flood of cheap beef imports after Brexit before it’s even signed new trade deals, a new report suggests.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would impose temporary tariffs on beef that are roughly half the current EU tariffs, says the study by The Andersons Centre for British red meat levy bodies AHDB, QMS and HCC. As a result, beef imports from the EU - which are currently tariff-free - would likely fall significantly.

However, plans to introduce a new 230,000-tonne tariff-rate quota for UK beef would cause imports from non-EU countries to surge by over 1,300%, the report predicts.

The TRQ would be open to all countries, including EU member states, and allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. So it could potentially be used by EU27 exporters for ongoing tariff-free access to the UK. “However, this needs to be balanced against the fact that it would be extremely difficult for the EU27 to compete with the likes of Latin American suppliers on price,” says the report.

Any surge in imports from outside the EU would likely result in “lower prices” for beef in the UK, putting pressure on the domestic industry, it warns.

UK beef prices could be pushed down even further if the government sticks to its promise to maintain frictionless trade on the island of Ireland. “The potential for re-routing meat from the Republic of Ireland via NI and onwards to GB without any checks, could result in substantial volumes of beef being placed on the UK market,” says the report.

However, the overall impact on the sector would depend on whether UK consumers kept buying British, said Sarah Baker, AHDB strategic insight manager. “Lots of shoppers say they’d back British, but our research suggests what people say and what they do aren’t always the same thing.”