Ornua prepares for Irish cheese to be locked out of the UK

Fears €300m of cheddar would lose access to its main market in hard Brexit

Ornua CEO John Jordan says contingency plans were in place for a loss of access to the UK if WTO tariffs were applied causing a 50pc hike in prices.
Ornua CEO John Jordan says contingency plans were in place for a loss of access to the UK if WTO tariffs were applied causing a 50pc hike in prices.

Samantha McCaughren Business Editor

Ornua, the main exporter of Irish dairy products, believes that Irish cheddar would lose access to the UK in the event of a "worst case" Brexit scenario.

The body, previously known as the Irish Dairy Board, has made extensive preparations for the introduction of WTO tariffs under a no-deal Brexit, which have included identifying new international markets for Irish cheddar. However, cheddar is predominantly consumed in the UK and according to Ornua, Ireland supplies around 20pc of the cheddar eaten there annually.

Ireland exports 100,000 tonnes of cheddar to the UK, which is about half of the cheddar produced here, with a value of €300m.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Ornua CEO John Jordan said the body has prepared for a range of Brexit outcomes and that he was optimistic cheddar would continue to be exported to the UK. However, he said contingency plans were in place for a loss of access to the UK if WTO tariffs were applied causing a 50pc hike in prices. This would mean British retailers and consumers would be unlikely to buy Irish product.

"We have done a very significant body of work around in the worst case scenario - you couldn't get Irish cheddar into the UK, where else in the world could you sell it?" said Jordan.

"So we have looked at other markets. They are not activated today because the return from those alternative routes isn't as good as the UK market," he said. These markets would include Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He agreed that replicating the UK's demand would be difficult and said a hard Brexit would be detrimental to the dairy industry.

"Cheddar in the UK, we're hugely dependent on today. If we can't get access to the UK market, we will be able to sell our cheddar but it won't at the same value added proposition that we have today."

As Ornua employs 1,000 people in the UK and has an extensive customer base there, one option in its contingency planning is supplying British customers with British cheddar. He said that the UK would still be a key strategic market for Ornua. "If our customers can't get access to Irish product we will sell them British product and we will have to sell the Irish product somewhere else."

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The body has already warehoused Irish stock in the UK to ensure there is no interruption of supply until the autumn.

See page 14

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