Wednesday 23 October 2019

Margaret Donnelly: 'UK crashing out would be a real hammer blow to rural Ireland'


British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Reuters
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Reuters
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

The Irish agri-food sector faces a 'catastrophic' jolt to its very being if a no-deal Brexit happens next March and there is very little it can do to help itself.

Our much-talked-about temperate climate means we have ideal conditions for farming, notably beef and dairying, and we've built up a huge export industry for our surplus produce. Some 90pc of Irish beef is exported, while our dairy exports are worth in the region of €4bn. Any possible disruption to our exports will be felt right across the sector, but especially by farmers on the ground.

Recent stark warnings from Meat Industry Ireland, which represents the meat processors, aren't scaremongering, but fact. If a no-deal Brexit happens, the agri-food sector will be facing a massive problem - what to do with our excess produce. While the Department of Agriculture and Bord Bia have been working in recent times on finding and opening new markets for Irish exports, the reality of the situation is that the UK is our closest and best market.

We are so reliant on the UK for beef exports that industry experts say possible disruption will see meat factories close and the price of beef collapse.

The UK takes 50pc of our beef exports - worth more than €1bn - and the imposition of extra tariffs onto these products, along with possible border checks, would fundamentally price us out of the market.

Other sectors are even more complicated. Hundreds of thousands of litres of milk from cows in the Republic of Ireland goes to Northern Ireland to be processed daily, before making its way back down here onto supermarket shelves. Some 500,000 pigs are sent to Northern Ireland every year for processing.

The logistics of any physical border checks would be nothing short of a nightmare for the industry as a whole. From processors right down to farmers, the free movement of animals, milk and processed foodstuffs is critical to the industry.

If there are more than 300 refrigerated trucks of meat leaving Ireland every week to continental EU markets, 89pc via the UK, the task is mammoth.

Norway and Sweden seem to have their border issues sorted, using available technology to minimise time delays. But paperwork problems can result in hours of delays. Estimates say that a two-minute delay in Dover would cause 27km queues. What would happen on the M1 as over 5,000 lorries cross this invisible Border daily?

As time ticks by and a no-deal Brexit looks more likely a possible outcome, talk of checks on live animals and agri products at borders has the potential to bring our export-reliant industry to a screeching halt.

Putting the brakes on the country's largest indigenous sector, which has ambitions to be worth €13bn, could see the sector crashing down and will affect far more than just farmers. A no-deal Brexit would be a hammer blow to a sector that's keeping the lights on in many parts of rural Ireland.

Irish Independent

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