Friday 22 September 2017

We need less self-congratulation and more realism as Brexit looms

From left, Damien McDonald, director general of the IFA; Rowena Dwyer, IFA chief economist; and Joe Healy, IFA president, at the launch of the farming body’s report on the potential impact of Brexit on Irish agriculture, in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
From left, Damien McDonald, director general of the IFA; Rowena Dwyer, IFA chief economist; and Joe Healy, IFA president, at the launch of the farming body’s report on the potential impact of Brexit on Irish agriculture, in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

In less than three years' time, supermarkets north of the Border could be selling juicy steaks from the furthest corners of the world at less than half the price of equivalent cuts of Irish meat for sale in the Republic. The same thing could happen to the relative prices of many other food products.

The scenario is possible, if not probable, because Britain is leaving the EU. As farming is more heavily subsidised in the EU than in the rest of the world on average, food prices in Europe are higher than in most other places. Consumers in Europe are prevented from accessing cheaper food by various protectionist measures which favour the bloc's farmers.

A British government seeking to deliver a "Brexit bonus" to consumers could do away with these measures once the UK is out of the EU. If that happens, not only will Irish food products be priced out of the British market, but consumers in the Republic will have every reason to fill their freezers with Argentine steak and other cheaper foodstuffs bought north of the Border.

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