Brexit deal must maintain trade continuity, businesses in North say

Grouping of 100 organisations calls for avoidance of hard border

A Northern Ireland business grouping has urged the UK government to secure “free and frictionless trade” with the European Union. Photograph: iStock

A Northern Ireland business grouping has urged the UK government to secure “free and frictionless trade” with the European Union. Photograph: iStock

 

A hundred organisations from across the UK’s food supply chain, along with some of Northern Ireland’s largest businesses, have warned the British prime minister that it is “imperative” any Brexit deal “maintains continuity in existing trade arrangements as far as possible including the avoidance of a hard border in Northern Ireland”.

The group, which includes farmers, suppliers, manufacturers and retailers, has come together to create the UK food supply chain manifesto which sets out what the food supply sector believes are the key objectives in any Brexit deal.

Top of the list is that the UK government secures both “free and frictionless trade” with the European Union and “ongoing access” to permanent and seasonal labour from within the EU following Brexit.

The manifesto, released on Monday, has been sent to Theresa May by the president of the UK’s National Farmers’ Union, Minette Batters, on behalf of signatories such as Claudine Hall, from the Belfast-headquartered international commodity trading group, W&R Barnett and Declan Billington, chief executive of John Thompson & Sons, one of Northern Ireland’s largest animal feed processors.

The UK farming body has warned that the food supply chain will be “deeply affected” when the UK leaves the EU and with little more than 10 months to go before Brexit it is critical that any deal “champions” food producers and the businesses that rely on them.

Concerns

Farmers and growers in the North have repeatedly voiced their concerns about the threat of cheap food imports after Brexit.

Northern Ireland’s agrifood industry is worth more than £4.8 billion (€5.49 billion) a year and employs more than 100,000 people and farming organisations have said it is vital that any Brexit deal protects local jobs and local industries.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union, which has also signed up to the food supply chain manifesto, has separately urged the UK government to prioritise “tariff-free, frictionless access to the EU marketplace” and in particular the all-Ireland trade in agriculture and food.

Meanwhile, food and drink processors in Northern Ireland have indicated they could move production or reduce production in the North if there were significant restrictions on the recruitment of migrant labour following Brexit.

Latest research carried from the North’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs shows that 44 per cent of food and drink processors believe that EU workers from outside of the UK and Ireland are “very important” to their business, while 70 per cent of food and drink firms now rely on workers from across the EU to keep their companies “functioning”.