Ceramic manufacturers say they are ‘really concerned’ at Government plans to reduce or remove tariffs on imports from next year.
Ministers have started consulting on proposals for the ‘UK Global Tariff’ which will replace the EU’s Common External Tariff from January 1, 2021.
At the moment, goods coming into the UK from outside the EU are subject to tariffs, which protects domestic producers from a flood of cheap imports.
The Government says simplifying and cutting these tariffs will benefit both consumers and manufacturers by lowering prices.
But the British Ceramic Confederation (BCC), which represents firms in Stoke-on-Trent and across the country, has raised concerns that some of the proposed changes could be harmful to its members.
Chief executive Laura Cohen, though, welcomed the Government’s decision to hold a four-week public consultation on the UK Global Tariff.
She said: “We are relieved that Government have listened to our concerns and realised they have to consult on an issue that fundamentally affects the nature of our economy. An impact assessment and parliamentary scrutiny are also essential.
“We need Government to be unashamedly supportive of British manufacturing. Zero import tariffs act as a ‘double whammy’, flooding our market with cheap imports while manufacturers continue to pay export tariffs to many markets.
“Moreover, they weaken our hand doing trade deals. If we give away access for free to Britain who would want to do a deal with us?”
Under the Common External Tariff system, different goods are subject to a wide variety of different tarrifs – 12 per cent for some types of tableware, for example.
The Government is proposing a simpler system, with tariffs under 2.5 per cent being removed and others being rounded down to the nearest 2.5, five or 10 per cent band.
Ministers are also looking to remove tariffs altogether for goods where there is only ‘limited’ UK production, or none at all, and for items classed as ‘intermediate’ goods.
Dr Cohen says these changes could hit the BCC’s members.
She said: “We are really concerned that Government is even considering rounding down all current tariffs and also removing those they term as ‘intermediate goods’ or ‘inputs to production’ or where they deem there is what they call ‘limited domestic production’.
“Our manufacturers, often making specialist and unique products, are a key part of very many complex supply chains including construction, aerospace, automotive and process industries. Their factories are at the heart of many British towns and communities, with valued jobs.
“Our members have told us they want current ‘most favoured nation’ import tariffs maintained for all products they make in the UK. However, they recognise, where raw materials are imported, there could be some benefits in tariff reduction, but only where there is absolutely no domestic production.”
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, who recently vowed to fight for British ceramics on a visit to Middleport-based Steelite International, said the tariff plans were part of the Government’s bid to become a ‘champion of free trade’.
She claimed the proposals would allow UK businesses to compete on fair terms with the rest of the world, while offering consumers greater choice and lower prices.
Ms Truss said: “The UK has left the EU and it is time for us to look forward to our future as an independent, global champion of free trade.
“It is vitally important that we now move away from complex tariff schedule imposed on us by the EU.
“High tariffs impinge on businesses and raise costs for consumers. This is our opportunity to set our own tariff strategy that is right for UK consumers and businesses across our country.
“I am calling on people, businesses and civil society groups to seize this opportunity to take part in our consultation and tell us what would work best for them.”
The online consultation will run until March 5. To see it, click here It can be found here.