Beef farming 'won't survive disastrous changes' - sector reacts to tariff regime threat

Stock image: PA
Stock image: PA

Ciaran Moran and Louise Hogan

Threatened tariffs and import quotas in a cliff-edge Brexit would be 'disastrous' for beef farming.

With the growing prospect of a no-deal exit now just days away, there were calls from the valuable agri-export sector for an extension to the process to avoid a crash out.

Amid rising pressure, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Government would move to seek a further relaxation of State aid rules and EU supports for agri-business in such a scenario.

Cormac Healy, from Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents the country's meat processors, urged rapid action.

"The fact that the political disarray is driving us in the direction of this cliff-edge Brexit is a real concern for our export business," he warned.

"A long extension is now needed to avoid a no-deal exit," he added.

Plans unveiled by the UK government outline tariffs on beef of 53pc, with the option of low-cost produce from South America also displacing Irish beef on the supermarket shelves.

It would deliver a direct hit of almost €800m.

Irish Farmers' Association president Joe Healy said it would be "disastrous" and most exposed sectors "will not survive".

"This would have a devastating effect in the rural economy," he said, as the UK remains the closest and most lucrative market.

Mr Healy said that such tariffs would make the produce simply uncompetitive.

Eimear McGuinness, manager of Donegal Livestock Mart, said it would make farmers very uncertain about buying in cattle this spring.

"The factories won't take the hit so it will fall back on the farmer," she said.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said the tariffs would be catastrophic and would have a knock-on impact in every parish.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) also warned the impact must not be underestimated.

ICSA president Patrick Kent said it "poses an immense barrier to continued beef exports to the UK".

"In the short term, we should expect that contracts already signed with UK supermarkets will be honoured, but in this kind of scenario all bets are off.

"In any event, it is certain that these tariffs will soon begin to cause calamity for our beef exports."

The Ulster Farmers' Union has slammed proposals by the UK government to implement a free-trade zone on Northern Ireland as giving no protection to the industry there.

It was shocked at the timing of the publication of the tariff schedules, a mere 16 days before the UK's scheduled departure date.

Irish Independent