Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Northern food bosses moot quota system with the south

Northern Ireland is in an excellent position to dictate Brexit policy in London that could benefit local farmers. Photo: PA
Northern Ireland is in an excellent position to dictate Brexit policy in London that could benefit local farmers. Photo: PA

Chris McCullough

A quota trading system between Northern Ireland and the Republic could be a fall-back option when it comes to protecting agri-business across the Border post Brexit.

Northern Ireland exports 25pc of its milk to the Republic, 36pc of its sheep, 36pc of pigs and 50pc of its flour.

There are huge concerns that Brexit could raise food inflation by up to 58pc for cheese and 30pc for milk should trading tariffs be imposed.

However, delegates at the Agri-Food Strategy Board supply chain forum event in Greenmount College were told that Northern Ireland is in an excellent position to dictate Brexit policy in London that could benefit local farmers.

Brexit has been described as a pendulum, and it is up to Northern Ireland agri-food industry to influence the London negotiators on which direction it swings.

According to agri-food chiefs, farmers in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the UK don't realise the velocity of which Brexit could hit their businesses once in force.

Declan Billington, the chairman of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, told the agri-food reps the industry had to pull together in order for meaningful negotiations to take place.

"Brexit is the only show in town and we must embrace it. Going forwards is what we must do, and do so with a game plan," he said.

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"Our agri-food industry turns over £4.6bn (€5.4bn) annually and we trade £708m with the Republic of Ireland.

"Another £440m is sent to the rest of the European Union and £140m sent to the rest of the world. This means a whopping 28pc of our turnover could be subject to trading tariffs once Brexit is in force.

"If we have tariffs imposed on our produce this would potentially create massive food inflation which could see cheese prices rise by 58pc and milk process rise by 30pc. Consumers would not be impressed with that at all.

"But the UK market is in deficit as we export a total of £18bn yet import £39bn, meaning a deficit of £21bn. How can that be? Surely we can redress that balance.

"With this in mind, if we adhered to a quota trading system with the Republic, this might be a good fallback option to protect both trading partners.

"Origin is also a concern and must be clearly addressed. If an animal is born in Northern Ireland and processed in the Republic, then it should be recognised as having a UK origin.

"These things all need to be ironed out going forwards, and we need to influence the London talks on how Brexit will best work for us," he added.


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