Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Goodman's ABP fears 'Brexit' impact on Irish beef industry

Paul Finnerty warns that cheap beef will flood the market if Britain quits the European Union, says Sarah McCabe

Paul Finnerty of ABP
Paul Finnerty of ABP
Sarah McCabe

Sarah McCabe

An exit from the European Union by Britain would do serious damage to Irish beef farmers, the Larry Goodman-owned beef processor ABP has warned.

Thousands of Irish farming families would be affected if the UK opts to leave the trading bloc, Paul Finnerty, the chief executive of the country's biggest beef company has said.

ABP is notoriously media shy and has remained quiet even on matters like the recent outbreak of BSE on a Louth farm - so his comments reflect the seriousness it attaches to a potential 'Brexit' scenario.

Goodman's business is one of Ireland's largest private employers. It has 2,500 staff in the Republic and 8,000 overall, and works with thousands of Irish beef suppliers.

If Britain leaves the EU, it will escape rules designed to avoid cheap imports of South American beef, Finnerty said, with consequences for Ireland.

"The UK is a significant net importer of beef. It's very important to the Irish economy with 8,000-9,000 Irish families involved in production.

"We are protected, within the circle of the European single market, by the WTO-EU tariff regimes. We operate in a community of common standards driven around the agendas of welfare and environment. South America operates under a different regime.

"If the UK was to distance itself from the EU, there would be significant questions as to what type of bilateral arrangements would be put in place with other trading blocs", he said, mentioning Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

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"I think it's reasonable to say that the end result of any free-trade agreement put in place between Mercosur [the South American trading bloc] and the UK would likely reduce the tariffs for South American product to come into the UK.

"The end result would be price deflation. If there's more product coming in from South America under an adjusted regime, there would be a negative consequence right back to brass-tacks for Irish cattle prices."

The Taoiseach has launched a new unit dedicated to British-Irish relations, which is lobbying against a Brexit.

On ABP's growth strategy - many have pinned its future success on China and the US, which are opening up to Irish beef imports - Finnerty said it is "preparing to take advantage" of China but admits it is a "colossal market" with the challenge of distance.

"It's a long way away. It's a very big market... It's really about being focused on what you are trying to achieve, instead of getting lost in the scale of it. America's a huge market too, so we've just focussed on two cities - New York and Boston. We're taking the same approach in China."

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