By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
We may be covering this a little late, but a meeting of a Commons committee to discuss "Generalised Tariff Preferences" is worthy of note, thanks to some contributions from Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mr Rees-Mogg started:
"There is then the great issue of sensitive and non-sensitive. Sensitive relates, to a large extent, to agricultural products, but it is a list of the most mind-numbing complexity, confusion and idiocy. There are a few bits that I want to bring to the Committee’s attention. I thought that hon. Members would like to know that fresh melons, including watermelons, are sensitive, but the peel of melons, including watermelons, is not sensitive. If one wishes to export the peel of a melon to the European Union, that will be duty free, but the melon itself will be subject to a duty.
I was fascinated to discover that the list of products, which starts on page 48 of the bundle, begins with entirely sensitive items of agricultural kinds, including donkey meat, which I am aware is a favoured delicacy of Kim Jong-Il, but is otherwise not commonly eaten. The first item that is non-sensitive, however, is frog legs. I wonder whether that is because there is no producer of frog legs other than the French or whether they are so competitive in France that the production—
I love the idea that potatoes—fresh or chilled—are sensitive. One has this vision of some poor potato that has grown up in a field in a country outside the European Union with low gross domestic product. It is a sensitive potato. Its feelings are upset when it is pulled out of the ground. Is that really a sensible and intelligent way for the European Union to proceed?
I note that frogs legs are non-sensitive, but limes, from a limey point of view, are sensitive. I like the fact that cyanide is sensitive. It is a good idea that it is a sensitive import to the European Union, but potassium permanganate is not sensitive. Where did these lists come from? Why are we not boldly saying to the European Union, “We believe in free trade. Free trade offers the benefits of prosperity to our people and to the people who export. There is a comparative advantage that allows our resources to be used most effectively in doing things that we are good at and letting other countries get on with what they are good at. We are condemning poor countries to poverty and stopping intermediate ones reaching a degree of wealth by imposing these absurd conditions?”"
The full debate can be read on Hansard here.