Government planning support for Brexit-hit export sector
The Government is planning financial support for exporters hit by Brexit, but it first needs approval from Europe.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the broad outline of the plans have been sent to Brussels to ensure they don't breach state aid rules.
Exporters selling their products into the UK have already been impacted by the Brexit vote as a result of the weakening in sterling, with businesses in the food and drink sector particularly vulnerable.
"We're looking at something in the Department, along the lines of the cheap money that we made available to the farming community [in Budget 2017], which would benefit the vulnerable export sector, but there are state aid implications of that," Mr Noonan said yesterday, without giving further details.
"We have had to send the heads of what we're talking about to the competition authority in Brussels for state aid clearance. We're planning that."
One of the measures announced in Budget 2017 was that a loan fund would be set up for farmers, in conjunction with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, that would be low cost, at below 3pc per year.
Irish goods exports to Britain plummeted by almost half a billion euro last year as the Brexit vote took its toll.
The UK is Ireland's largest trading partner for food and drink, accounting for about 40pc of food and drink exports, valued roughly at about €4.4bn.
Mr Noonan told the Oireachtas Budgetary Oversight Committee that there was currently no hard evidence that the Brexit vote was affecting the economy here.
But he warned there would be an impact. "Making allowance will depend on what's going to happen. If there's no deal, and there's no free trade agreement between the UK and EU, and World Trade Organisation rules apply and there are tariffs, then there's a 60pc tariff on prime steak.
"You can see what that does to the beef market, when already a woman in Manchester can buy two and a half chickens for the price of a sirloin steak."
He said the Government was "unashamedly" in favour of a free trade agreement between the EU and UK post-Brexit.