Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Brexit talks pose 'greatest threat' in a generation

IFA President Joe Healy and EU Commissioner Phil Hogan at yesterday's Brexit conference in Kildare. Photo: Finbarr O’Rourke
IFA President Joe Healy and EU Commissioner Phil Hogan at yesterday's Brexit conference in Kildare. Photo: Finbarr O’Rourke

Ken Whelan

The upcoming Brexit talks pose the "greatest threat to Irish farming in our lifetime" with the livelihoods of thousands in the sector under threat, IFA president Joe Healy has warned.

Delegates at a Brexit conference in Co Kildare yesterday also heard that the IFA intends to build a pan-European position on the Brexit question over the next few months, with renewed lobbying in Brussels by the association set to begin next weekend.

The conference, which was also addressed by EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed as well as various agri-food sector chief executives, attracted over 500 delegates to the Goffs complex.

"Some 40pc of our agricultural exports, or €4bn in monetary terms, depends on a successful outcome of these talks," Mr Healy told delegates.

He identified the three critical priorities for the Government as maintaining the closest possible trading relationship with Britain, maintaining the actual €4bn value of the British market for Irish agri-producers, and ensuring that the Common Agricultural Policy is fully funded by the European Union.

"The implications of Brexit are clear for Ireland and they are stark," Mr Healy warned the conference.

"The value of our exports cannot be undermined by an increase in low-cost food imports into the British market or by imports that do not meet the high food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards that are required of EU producers."

The IFA also wants a tariff-free regime to emerge at the end of upcoming talks between the EU and Britain.

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Meanwhile, a bilateral trade deal between Ireland and Britain as a possible Brexit solution for Irish agriculture is a "complete non-starter", EU Commissioner Phil Hogan stressed at the gathering.

Hogan emphasised that the outcome of talks between the EU and Britain would be decided in the interests of the remaining EU countries.

Hogan said Denmark, France and the Netherlands had similar trade problems arising from Britain's decision to leave the EU, but at the end of the day all these separate national agendas would be resolved on a unified European basis.

He welcomed the decision of British prime minister Theresa May to call a snap general election, which he believed would give her a healthy overall majority to negotiate a trade association between Britain and the EU and not the type of Brexit envisaged by the "loony right" in Britain.

"Currently, at least, some of the crazier ideas about crashing out of the EU without a deal, or falling back on WTO rules, are less in evidence.

"There are still looney voices on the right of the Tory party and in the Tory press which can always be relied on to generate loud and abrasive headlines, but the implications and costs of such scenarios are now, finally, being understood better and more widely", Mr Hogan said.

Mr Hogan added that the recent election results in France at the weekend, and earlier this year in the Netherlands, were to be welcomed in the context of EU solidarity.

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