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Could Ireland's sheep sector benefit from Brexit?


The Irish sheep sector could benefit from Brexit, if sheep meat exports from the UK to the EU are curtailed.

France is the largest buyer of Irish sheep meat and a Brexit that leaves the UK with reduced access to the French market could be good news for Irish sheep farmers.

The UK, New Zealand and Ireland are the three main counties France imports sheep meat from, with the UK providing the lion's share of over 40pc of imports. France has imported 90,000-100,000t of sheep meat in recent years and remains the largest export market for Irish sheep meat.

And the Irish share of that market could grow. Kevin Hanrahan of Teagasc said recently that while exports to France are approximately 18,000t or double of what is exported to the UK, a Brexit that leaves the UK with reduced access to the French lamb market could be good for Ireland as it looks to capitalise on that possible opportunity.

The UK, he said, has an agri-food deficit worth €31.7m and while 43pc of Irish agri-foods exports went to UK in 2015, including 52pc of Irish beef, Brexit will affect the Irish agri-food trade.

"There will probably be a slower growth in UK incomes, so slower growth of Irish agri-food exports and so reduced incomes for Irish farmers," he said.

However, he said as the UK is Ireland's main competitor in the French market for sheep, access to this market being affected by Brexit could be good news for Irish sheep farmers.

The UK's Agriculture and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) has said that Ireland has been particularly successful in exporting to France, with volumes up 21pc on the year for the January-September 2016 period.

It said this is notable as France has been importing less sheep meat overall this year, and UK exports to this destination have reported a decline.

"At 8,260t, Ireland also shipped five per cent more sheep meat to the UK during the first three quarters of the year, compared to 2015," it reports.

It also said that the Irish lamb reference price has remained below the UK price in sterling terms, suggesting Irish sheep meat has continued to be reasonably attractive on the UK market.

Equally, the decreasing availability of sheep meat from New Zealand and Australia has likely aided Ireland in making gains on the UK market, it reports.

Online Editors