Trade policy and why tariffs are needed to protect climate friendly farming

Tariffs to protect green farming

Zero carbon farming in the UK

In early July, I attended the Sustainable Food Trust’s national event on farming and climate change. It was the first SFT event to run in partnership with the National Farmers Union, underlying the urgent need to work collaboratively to address the challenge of climate change. Patrick Holden kicked off the discussion by saying that we needed a policy framework in the UK to entrench zero carbon practices into our farming system. Policies that encourage a re-localisation of agriculture based on circular systems, rotations, and renewable energy.

A global strategy for reducing agricultural carbon emissions through trade

In addition to domestic policy, it was noted that the right trade system is vital to instigating net zero farming in the UK.  Economist Dieter Helm said that with post EU ‘free trade’ deals now looking more certain there is an impending threat of zero tariffs on imports on the horizon. He told us that it was a mistake to only look at carbon consumption within one country. Although the UK has seemed to reduce emissions, this has been through de-industrialising, and then importing the carbon in the form of goods. This is the wrong solution and not a global strategy for reducing carbon emissions. In order to provide virtuous climate friendly policies around the world, and to protect our farmers’ ecological practices, we must have border-based carbon controls. To do this we must look at supply chains including imported grain; subsidised agri-diesel, fertilisers derived from petro-chemicals and pesticide factories in other countries. If the polluter has to pay, then ‘cheap food’ becomes more expensive, and there is less difference with environmentally friendly food. Encouraging more consumers to buy it.

Lobbying is essential

Dieter said that ultimately, agricultural policy has to dovetail with the 10 goals of the 25 year Environment Bill plan. There can be no net zero without agriculture. The prospect of free trade deals without the right tariffs on carbon would be catastrophic, but unfortunately he said that “this is the direction in which we are headed.”

It is up to us to make sure we lobby the new Government for proper tariffs to protect and encourage ecological farming in the UK.