Brexit fishing bonanza: Why Britain should not fear WTO trade tariffs

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After the fifth round of trade talks last month, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said a deal with the UK by the end of the year appears “unlikely”. He complained Britain was demanding “near total exclusion” of European fishing boats from its waters. While there have been signs of compromise in some key issues, such as the need for a single deal rather than multiple sectoral agreements, Brussels still insists on maintaining its current fishing rights in British waters and wants London to agree to a number of EU regulations, including environmental standards, workers’ rights and state aid rules.

In a statement, the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, also concurred that there were “considerable gaps”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been adamant that he will not allow the discussions to drag on into the autumn, arguing that British businesses and citizens need certainty on the way forward before then.

This means that if the two sides are unable to reach a deal by the end of the current Brexit transition period, Britain will leave the single market and the customs union without any agreement on future access, and will trade with the bloc on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

While many believe trading on WTO terms with the bloc could bring disruption, the head of the Scottish fishing industry claimed Britain should not be “frightened to death” by the trade tariffs that could be introduced under a no deal.

According to a throwback report by The Guardian from four years ago, Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, told the Commons Brexit select committee that the fishing sector could have seen a doubling or more of its catch if Britain took back control of its waters.

He said the WTO tariff on fish was between five percent and 10 percent, while the pound had dropped by almost 20 percent against the euro after the EU referendum.

He said: “Let us not be frightened to death of tariffs at all.

“They may be consumed in the noise of currency fluctuation and some small tariff may not be a disaster.

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“We must very much change the rhetoric of ‘we must be in the single market, we must be in the single market.’

“We don’t need a single market, we need an adequate market.”

At the time, a House of Lords EU committee had said fishing communities, who had campaigned vigorously for a Leave vote, may have had unrealistic expectations of reducing foreign fleets operating in British waters.

However, Mr Armstrong told the Commons Brexit select committee: “More than half of our natural resource goes elsewhere – that is unthinkable for another coastal state.

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“Taking that back is not an act of regression, it’s an act of normality.”

He said the EU common fisheries policy was an act of tremendous generosity by the UK to other countries, and the “monstrous” imbalance had to be redressed.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove put it to him that if it was correct that Norway landed three times as much fish as Britain, there was potential for Britain’s catch to “at least double” post-Brexit.

Mr Armstrong replied: “That’s entirely possible.”

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