“On tariffs, [we’re] reducing the European Union’s 40% tariffs on food from Africa”.
Following the government’s decision to reduce its commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid to 0.5%, Conservative MP George Freeman appeared on Newsnight to talk about the other ways in which the government supported poorer nations.
One thing he claimed was that the UK had reduced the EU’s 40% tariff on food imports from Africa. It was something he previously said in Parliament in April.
But the EU doesn’t have a 40% tariff on food from Africa.
Tariffs are taxes on imports. They are largely used to protect domestic producers from foreign competition. For example, if a government wanted to protect domestic beef farmers from being undercut by foreign competitors, it might choose to place a tariff on foreign imports of beef.
The EU has tariffs on various products, but there isn’t just one flat 40% tariff on food. Tariffs vary by foodstuff. For instance, the average tariff placed on dairy products imported into the EU is 37% while on tea and coffee it’s 6%.
In practice there are many different products within each of these categories which have their own specific tariff.
But what’s more important, is that the EU waives most tariffs on the majority of African countries.
By our count, 43 of 55 African countries face no tariffs whatsoever when exporting to the EU, with the exception of arms.
This is because of schemes where the EU unilaterally waives tariffs on the least developed nations worldwide, or bilateral “economic partnership agreements”, where the EU drops its import tariffs, often in exchange for better access to the other signatory country’s market.
Another eight African countries face either reduced or removed tariffs on most exports to the EU, by virtue of schemes the EU has to help low and lower-middle income countries, or free trade agreements.
Goods originating from Western Sahara are subject to the same terms as goods from Morocco which claims the area (a free trade agreement with some tariffs on fish and agri-foods) .
Only three countries in Africa do not have preferential trading terms with the EU: Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Libya.
Going back to Mr Freeman’s original claim, there may well be a particular foodstuff from the continent which the EU charges an import tariff of 40% on, and which the UK does not.
And that may mean that exporters from those 12 countries without complete tariff free access to the EU face lower tariff barriers exporting that product to the UK than the EU.
But that’s hardly the same as saying that the EU puts a 40% tariff on food imports from Africa.
After publication Mr Freeman acknowledged the statistic was incorrect.