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Saturday 20 January 2018

Agri-food sector must look beyond UK - Hogan

Bord Bia's CEO Tara McCarthy.
Bord Bia's CEO Tara McCarthy.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Last year was a year of two halves for Irish exports, according to Bord Bia's CEO Tara McCarthy, but the real story is about the euro exchange rate and the volatility in exchange rates.

Speaking at the Irish Farmers Journal/AIB Navigating Global Trade conference last week, McCarthy said that Donald Trump and Theresa May are going to have a big impact on everything we do.

Exports to the UK were down 8pc in 2016 - driven by sterling, she said, although a lot of the decline was before the Brexit vote.

Growth for Irish agri-food exports was primarily in international markets, which saw exports up 13pc in 2016. This, she said, was mainly driven by meat, dairy and prepared foods and Ireland saw a six-fold increase in exports to China in 2016.

The EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan told the conference that trade deals cannot be negotiated until the UK's exit is negotiated

"Trade details cannot be negotiated until the exit is negotiation and if we don't reach an agreement we fall back onto the WTO agreement," he said.

He said that the growth of our agri-food exports is contributing enormously to rural communities across Ireland, but while 43pc of total Irish ag production goes to the UK, it will have to look elsewhere for new markets.

"I will help ensure we get the best possible access around the world… but we cannot have all our eggs in the one basket."

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He also said that he hoped there would be "transitional arrangements", and that there would be a sensible arrangement on trade between the EU and the UK as both sides are very dependant on it.

Commissioner Hogan said he stood ready to protect European farmers, and that Irish farmers are in Europe.

"I am anxious to see how we can protect all of our European farmers in the context of Brexit," he said.

The General Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Aidan O'Driscoll told the conference that Ireland can only prosper by trading successfully with the rest of the world.

"No one owes us a living, we have to earn it on EU and world markets and to do that we have to be competitive. We export high quality food and drink to 180 countries worldwide. They buy that product because it's competitive on price and quality and food safety standards and in its sustainable production systems. All of those aspects are part of our competitiveness."

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