Toggle high contrast

TUC concerns about government 'global tariffs' plans

Report type
Consultation response
Issue date
Key findings
‘Global tariffs’ are the tariffs that the UK will apply to countries it does not have trade deals with after leaving the EU customs union at the end of 2020.  These are sometimes known as ‘Most Favoured Nation’, or ‘MFN’, tariffs.  The government is consulting on plans to lower and in some cases remove tariffs that currently apply to countries the UK does not have trade deals with.
The TUC's response to the government consultation highlights that this plan raises the risk of dumping of cheap imports into key sectors as well as weakening the UK’s hands in future trade negotiations.  In order to protect jobs, rights and prevent dumping the TUC is calling for the UK to negotiate a good deal with the EU that guarantees tariff free trade and dynamic alignment on rights as strengthening the UK trade remedies regime.
The TUC believes trade unions must be engaged in the formation of trade policy to ensure that good jobs, workers’ rights, standards and public services are protected.   We call on the government to engage with unions to address the concerns we have about the government’s proposals, outlined below.
TUC concerns

The TUC believes it is crucial for the government to ensure UK industries and businesses are able to continue to import goods tariff-free from the EU, as the UK’s closest and most integrated trading partner.  However, the TUC does not believe that unilaterally lowering tariffs on key industrial and agricultural goods - as the government proposes with its ‘global tariff’ plan  - is the best way to achieve this.

Threats to jobs

The government’s proposed ‘global tariff’ approach would grant tariff free access on certain goods not only to EU but also non-EU importers.  This threatens the competitiveness of UK industry by making it easier for cheaper imports to enter the UK market which threatens thousands of jobs in manufacturing, agriculture and connect supply chains.  Furthermore, as a number of non-EU importers, particularly China are already engaged in dumping goods such as steel, tyres and ceramics in the UK market with damaging consequences for jobs, granting non-EU countries increased tariff free access to the UK market will increase the likelihood of such dumping, threating thousands of jobs.  These plans will also make it easier for non-EU countries such as Brazil to dump agricultural goods on the UK market, threatening jobs in agriculture and connected supply chains.

Job losses will further damage UK industry by reducing domestic demand for UK produced goods.

Threats to rights 

Granting increased tariff free access to non-EU importers is also likely to encourage imports from countries that do not respect fundamental labour standards, encouraging a race to the bottom on rights.  China and Vietnam – which are both likely to use this increased market access to dump more manufactured goods on the UK market – are both countries where fundamental International Labour Conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining are not respected.  In China and Vietnam, workers have no right to join an independent union and consequently exploitative conditions are widespread.  Furthermore, in Brazil - a country that is likely to take advantage of increased access to the UK’s agricultural sectors – trade unions internationally have raised concerns that the government is abusing fundamental workers’ rights and repressing trade unionists.[2]

Weakening UK’s negotiating hand

The TUC believes that by lowering tariffs to zero on a number of key goods, the government will remove the incentive for other countries to negotiate trade deals with the UK, weakening its hand in global trade negotiations.

The UK must agree a good deal with the EU

The TUC believes that, rather than risk jobs and undermine workers’ rights by enabling tariff-free access to more of the UK market to all countries through its ‘global tariff’ plan, the government must prioritise obtaining a good deal with the EU that ensures imports continue to be tariff-free and guarantees that UK workers continue to be protected by high standards of rights agreed at EU level.

Stronger trade remedies system needed

In order to prevent dumping and unfair trade practice from countries such as China the TUC believes the government should reject its proposed ‘global tariff’ approach and put in place a stronger trade remedies system.  The TUC is concerned that the trade remedies system legislated for in the Customs Act will leave the UK with a significantly weaker system of trade remedies than the UK currently has via membership of the EU customs union. 

The TUC calls on the government to make the following changes to ensure the UK has a robust and effective trade remedies system:

  • Provide trade unions with a role in triggering investigations into cases of suspected dumping or unfair trade practice and trade unions provided with non-executive seats on the Trade Remedies Authority
  • Remove the compulsory ‘lesser duty rule’ as this enables a lower level of anti-dumping duty to be applied in cases of dumping which is likely to be less effective
  • Remove the ‘public interest’ and ‘economic interest’ tests which will allow the Secretary of State to prevent trade remedies being applied on the basis of subjective judgements. 
  • Ensure measures are in place to deal adequately with ‘non market’ economies such as China if they engage in dumping in the UK market.



[1] UK government (2020) ‘UK global tariff’ consultation,

[2] TUC (2020) ‘The edge of democracy’,

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now