Brexit: Final bid to prevent huge new tariffs ruining African farmers amid allegations of UK ‘bullying’

Exclusive: ‘People in Ghana are very angry. They do not understand why Britain is acting like a bully’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 05 December 2020 15:50 GMT
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

A last-gasp bid will be made to prevent Brexit ruining African farmers – and hitting British exports – amid allegations of government “bullying” of developing countries.

Farmers in Ghana will be hit with huge new tariffs on key exports including bananas and tuna, unless the country agrees to “roll over” its existing trade deal, from the UK’s EU membership, by the end of the month.

But its government has protested it would be forced to break a legal agreement with other West African countries – and has condemned the “take it or leave it” approach pursued by London.

Liz Truss, the trade secretary, has refused to allow existing trade terms to continue until the row can be settled, despite warnings of tens of thousands of “devastating” job losses in Ghana.

“People in Ghana are very angry. They do not understand why Britain is behaving in this way, why it is acting like a bully,” a source close to the negotiations told The Independent.

Now a vote is planned in the House of Lords on Monday, to ensure Ghana – and other African countries unable to reach agreement before 31 December – do not lose vital market access.

“It will be a stain on post-Brexit trading relations if the government allows this to happen,” said Jeremy Purvis, the Liberal Democrat trade spokesperson in the Lords, who has put forward the amendment to the Trade Bill.

“People shopping this weekend will have been buying bananas from Ghana, something the UK has promoted through the Fairtrade movement. It is shameful.”

If no temporary terms are agreed, Ghana – which exported more than 45,000 tonnes of bananas to the UK last year, employing 4,000 people – will have to pay punishing new tariffs of £95 for every 1,000kg.

Levies would soar by 20 per cent on canned tuna, a sector where the UK takes around 40 per cent of exports, and also rise on cocoa paste (up 4.5 per cent) and cocoa butter (up 2.5 per cent).

George Kporye, corporate affairs manager of the banana-exporting company Golden Exotics, said its “entire operation” was under threat, putting 4,500 direct jobs and “tens of thousands” of others at risk.

“The social impact of plantation closures on communities around the plantations will be devastating,” he told The Independent.

“Besides jobs, plantations also provide most social infrastructure such as road, bridges, electricity, potable water, schools, education scholarships and medical services.”

Ms Truss has insisted Ghana must agree to roll over the EU agreement, telling MPs last month: “There should be no block on Ghana being able to get tariff-free, quota-free access to the UK.”

But trade experts say this ignores the fact that, since that 2008 deal was struck, Ghana has joined the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

It would mean agreeing a different tariff for UK goods than its neighbours, undermining its customs union with those countries and badly damaging relationships.

There are suspicions that the UK is waiting for Ghana to cave in after a presidential election on Monday – which it insists it will not do – and of a split between Ms Truss and the Foreign Office, which is keener to avoid a rupture.

Anger is heightened by memories that Liam Fox, the trade secretary in 2017, promised that “nothing would be done to jeopardise trade with Africa”, as Brexit was carried out.

But Ghana also believes the UK, which enjoys a trade surplus with the fast-developing country, will suffer as it is also hit by higher tariffs – as levies for imports from the EU are likely to be cut.

A  spokesperson for the Department for International Trade said: “The whole basis of these claims is totally misleading. The EU does not have an agreement in force with the ECOWAS region.

“What we are proposing is entirely reasonable. We’re offering an agreement, replicating the same terms as the EU deal.

“We are already proposing what the amendment demands we should – which is continuity.

“We urge Ghana to finally agree the deal that is there to be signed, and maintain their duty-free access.

“If a deal cannot be reached, from 1 January 2021 Ghana will be eligible for the General Framework of the UK’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences, which provides tariff reductions on goods imported to the UK from low- and lower-middle-income countries.

“We would be very happy to discuss a UK-ECOWAS agreement with our West African partners going forward.”

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