Thursday 18 July 2019

Strategy now needed to protect €4.4bn drink and food exports to UK

Major concerns have been flagged over currency fluctuations hitting exports. Photo: Bloomberg
Major concerns have been flagged over currency fluctuations hitting exports. Photo: Bloomberg

Louise Hogan Farming Editor

THE COUNTRY'S farm and agri-industry has called for a "clear strategy" in the high-stakes post-Brexit world to protect the €4.4bn exports destined for the UK market.

Major concerns have been flagged over currency fluctuations hitting exports, potential tariffs, cuts to the EU budget, customs controls and potential certification issues for animals and food.

With Irish meat exports to the UK valued at €2bn a year, meat processors have warned the high levels of uncertainty will have an impact.

"The key immediate issues of concern are the fall in the value of sterling with its impact on returns from the UK market, as well as the potential of weaker consumer spending in the UK," said Cormac Healy, director of Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

He warned there were fears that the UK would seek to strike trade deals with international countries - such as the beef powerhouse of Brazil - which would undermine our key valuable €1.1bn beef trade to the UK.

Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter said Brexit brought a "significant challenge" for the agri-industry. However, he pointed out the UK has continued to represent a growth opportunity for business and it remained a net importer of food. Mr Cotter stressed their immediate focus was on managing the increased volatility following the vote.

He said the long-standing relationship and the "close ties" would help the Irish food industry "navigate though these uncertain times".

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said "safeguarding" the interests of the Irish agri-food sector would be central in informing the Government's negotiations for the UK's exit from the EU. He pointed out there was a two-year period for transition, and a dedicated unit had been set up in the Department of Agriculture, with all stakeholders in the industry due to be involved.

Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Joe Healy said clear signals were needed from Government on the trading relationship with the UK and Northern Ireland.

Concerns have been raised over the future level of support for the country's farmers through the monies delivered from Brussels under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as the UK is a net contributor to the EU budget.

"Minimising uncertainty and setting out a clear strategy on the next steps is a priority," said Mr Healy as he pointed out it would have a significant impact on cross-border farmers.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) said CAP supports would be "more vital than ever", while the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) also highlighted the need for a "clear Brexit plan".

"Brexit will have practical implications at farm level, particularly for farmers in border regions, for processors in terms of trade to the UK and also transit of products to continental Europe," said ICMSA president John Comer.

ICOS, representing dairy and livestock mart co-ops, said attention must go to securing the "most positive post-Brexit arrangements" possible.

"Panic or over reaction is not an appropriate response to this new reality, there is a job of work to be done, which will require the combined focus and effort of Government and industry," said ICOS president Martin Keane.

Irish Independent

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