As the UK’s exit from the European Union on December 31 draws closer, there are growing calls for the government to strike trade deals with Ghana, Cameroon and Kenya to protect their farmers from new tariffs that could affect their exports.
Currently, the EU does not charge any tariffs on imports from these three countries but according to the UK-based trade advocacy group, Traidcraft Exchange, “the UK is choosing not to go down this road”.
Traidcraft said in a statement over the weekend: “On the 1st of January, farmers who have been selling bananas, cocoa and flowers to the UK market for decades could find themselves suddenly unable to compete or make a profit.
“We’re calling on the UK government to take charge of this situation and give producers in those countries a guarantee that they will be able to keep selling to the UK without paying tariffs after Brexit.”
The UK is an important export market for the three African countries whose bananas, tuna, flowers and green beans are sold in British supermarkets every day of the year.
At the moment, products from these countries come into the UK market without having to pay additional tariffs, Traidcraft explained.
“This approach offers farmers in poorer countries, who might otherwise struggle to compete in our market, the opportunity to trade their way out of poverty.
“But as it stands, the UK is planning to charge significant new tariffs on imports from Kenya, Ghana and Cameroon when the post-Brexit transition period comes to a close at the end of this year,” Traidcraft noted.
For instance, green beans from Kenya would be hit by seven per cent tariffs, while canned tuna from Ghana would be charged an additional 16 per cent, the advocacy group pointed out.
Bananas from Cameroon and Ghana would cost an extra £95 per tonne, according to Traidcraft. Overall, Kenyan industry representatives estimate that their exports to the UK would be hit with $24 million of new taxes each year.
“This could destroy agricultural and fishing jobs, pushing large numbers of workers, the majority of whom are women, into deeper poverty,” said Traidcraft, which in 2017 successfully campaigned for the UK to copy the majority of the EU’s trade policies designed to support developing countries.
“But although Kenya, Ghana and Cameroon remain economically vulnerable, they are not classified as ‘Least Developed Countries’ by the UN.
“This means they aren’t covered by the UK’s approach,” Traidcraft said.
The advocacy group argues that one of the key concerns with free trade agreements (FTAs) between the UK and individual African countries is the impact that such agreements would have on regional trade on the continent.
It noted that the three countries were part of regional groupings that had agreed to charge the same tariff on goods coming in from outside.
“A UK FTA would entail Kenya, Ghana and Cameroon cutting tariffs on imports from the UK,” Traidcraft said.
“This would destroy the ‘common external tariff’ that those countries have committed to, making regional trade more difficult.”
Traidcraft went on: “The UK has presented Ghana, Cameroon and Kenya with a binary choice: accept a rushed trade deal, which could make it more difficult to trade with your neighbours, or reject such a deal and see some major sectors get hit with damaging new tariffs – risking livelihoods amongst some of the poorest parts of society.
“This divide-and-rule approach to trading with African partners is outdated.
“Instead, the UK should immediately offer Kenya, Cameroon and Ghana a continuation of their current zero-tariff trading arrangements, with no requirement for them to lower tariffs in return.
“This would be at no cost to the UK or UK businesses, and would show support for international trade that truly delivers for poorer countries.”