Saturday 24 August 2019

Farmers face selling food to UK for less after Brexit

As much as 50pc of Irish beef, 60pc of cheese and 90pc of mushrooms end up on British tables. Stock Image
As much as 50pc of Irish beef, 60pc of cheese and 90pc of mushrooms end up on British tables. Stock Image

Kevin Doyle and Claire McCormack

Farmers face having their livelihoods decimated if free trade with the UK is not maintained after Brexit, a major new report warns.

Agri-food businesses are facing a more significant risk from the result of the UK referendum than any other sector.

The study on UK-Irish relations, compiled by the EU committee of the House of Lords, notes more than 40pc of Irish agri-food and drink exports go to the UK market, compared with 31pc to the rest of the EU.

As much as 50pc of Irish beef, 60pc of cheese and 90pc of mushrooms end up on British tables. It comes as new figures from IBEC show the value of Irish food exports to the UK is down 5.6pc year-on-year.

This accelerated to 12.5pc in July and August before some recovery in September. IBEC said depreciation of sterling is playing a significant role.

Read more: Brexit impact is 'likely to be worse for Irish economy than the British'

Read more: Rural Ireland facing economic blow as value of food exports to UK falls 5.6%

Launching the detailed peers' report in Dublin yesterday, Lord Michael Jay said if the UK leaves the customs union and barriers to trade are put up, it could result in Britain importing food from other counties "at lower rates in order to ensure there is cheap food in the United Kingdom".

He said this would "have quite serious implications for agricultural exports from the Republic".

The committee concluded that while Brexit will impact on all aspects of life it will particularly hit "the substantial cross-border trade including co-operation on meat and diary, which has flourished in a single-market environment free of tariffs and customs".

Reacting to the report, IFA president Joe Healy called for Ireland's access to the UK to remain "as free as possible".

"Our first position is that the UK would remain a full member of the EU's Single Market, including free trade on agricultural products," he said.

"This is also the position represented by our farming colleagues in the NFU in the UK, with whom we remain in regular contact since the vote and work closely with in Brussels through the Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations.

"If this proves unworkable, IFA is clear that the agreement of a comprehensive free trade agreement between the EU and the UK, with favourable access for agricultural products and mutual recognition of standards, must be a priority at EU level," he said.

The House of Lords' report suggests Ireland and the UK should negotiate a bilateral trade agreement and then convince the EU to take it on board. However, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said this will not be possible.

"The legal negotiation has to be conducted by the European Union with the United Kingdom and we will be part of the negotiating team," he said.

"We have representation on it already. That's the official legal position. It's not possible to sort out then what ever difficulties may emerge on the basis of a bilateral."

Irish Independent

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