The British Retail Consortium has called on the government to focus on keeping shop prices low in forthcoming Brexit talks.

In a letter to international trade secretary Liam Fox, the BRC said the government’s strategy must focus on finding opportunities for lowering import costs as well as avoiding any increase in tariffs.

Launching the BRC’s Brexit campaign, chairman Richard Baker said: “We will be supporting the government through this complex and difficult process, helping them analyse how increased cost pressures on retailers could mean higher shop prices and identifying any opportunities for new trade deals that could benefit individuals and families.

“The retail industry is the UK’s biggest importer, and has huge experience of importing from every corner of the world. We will be engaged in a constructive dialogue with government that will bring our experience to bear on the Brexit talks to the benefit of everyone in the UK.”

It said the recent devaluation of the pound and years of deflation had left little margin for retailers to absorb added costs from import tariffs and administrative burdens.

Moreover, failure to strike a good Brexit deal by 2019 would have a disproportionately severe impact on retailers and their customers, because if the UK fell back on to World Trade Organisation rules the new tariff rates that the UK would apply to imports from the EU would be highest for consumer staples such as food.

For example, the average duty on meat imports could be as high as 27%, the BRC warned.

The BRC is also calling on the government to introduce only such domestic legislation and regulations on the retail industry that will promote growth during what will be a challenging time for retailers and the three million people they employ.