'No easy answers' says Creed as no-deal Brexit could leave cross border agri trade at a standstill
The Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has said there are 'no easy answers' to avoiding huge disruption to the All Ireland agri economy in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
It comes as leaders in the Irish dairy industry warned that the current all-Ireland dairy economy would be over if the UK pushes ahead with the threatened no-deal exit from the EU on October 31.
The stark warning came from Dairy Industry Ireland director Conor Mulvihill who is now calling for agreement on an "Island of Ireland agriculture regulatory backstop" to ensure the continued flow of milk between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Responding to the comments, Minister Creed conceded that Brexit poses enormous challenges for the agri-food and fisheries sectors, including the dairy industry.
However, he said it remains the Government’s view that the best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal, protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop.
"As part of our no deal preparations, the Government is working closely with the European Commission to meet the shared twin objectives of protecting the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it, and avoiding a hard border to at least prevent physical infrastructure at the border. "Without a Withdrawal Agreement, avoiding such a border would become more complex and challenging.
"There are no easy answers, and any solutions agreed will be far sub-optimal to the backstop and will be highly disruptive to the all-island economy.
"Work on no deal Brexit preparations has the highest priority within my Department and across Government," he said.
More than 800m litres of milk moves across the Irish border for processing each year.
Milk tankers cross the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland 33,000 times a year - or over 370 a day, according to ICOS. Northern Ireland produces around 2.2 billion litres of milk a year, of which some 30pc is processed in the Republic. Milk and dairy products move in both directions, sometimes several times.
A recent analysis by Dairy Industry Ireland of a no-deal Brexit spelt out the severe impact on the all-Ireland dairy sector.
"Current EU regulations would not allow the current free flow of milk - the milk would be treated the same as if it came from Bosnia as Northern Ireland would be seen as a third country in terms of sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards," said Mr Mulvihill.
He said a severe downward pressure within weeks on the Northern Ireland milk price could be expected.
Close to 420,000 sheep slaughtered in Irish plants in 2018 were sourced in Northern Ireland, while in the region of 470,000 pigs produced in the South were slaughtered by processors in Northern Ireland last year.
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