Irish farmers meeting UK counterparts to plan for Brexit

Agri-food leaders to co-ordinate approach, arguing particular vulnerability of sector

Joe Healy: said the threat of Brexit was the “most significant challenge” to face Ireland’s farming and food sector since the formation of the State. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Joe Healy: said the threat of Brexit was the “most significant challenge” to face Ireland’s farming and food sector since the formation of the State. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy is to meet his UK counterparts on Friday as the Republic’s food exports industry looks to mitigate the fallout from Britain’s EU exit.

The meeting will be hosted by the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) in Co Down. Among the topics up for discussion will be the implications of Brexit and the formation of a co-ordinated approach to the negotiations.

The meeting will be attended by UFU president Barclay Bell, National Farmers’ Union of England president Meurig Raymond, National Farmers’ Union of Scotland president Andrew McCornick and the National Farmers’ Union of Wales president Stephen James.

Mr Healy will set out the key priorities for farming and food in the IFA policy paper Brexit: The Imperatives for Irish Farmers & the Agri-Food Sector.

“There is a strong awareness of the importance of the British market for our food exports, but the level of trade and co-operation between North and South is also significant,” he said in advance of the meeting.

“The shared land border and geographical closeness has led to the development of a highly-integrated agri-food sector, with large volumes in both finished products and products requiring further processing.

“There is a strong view among all farm leaders of the importance of placing our issues at the top of the agenda. We will be working closely as the Brexit negotiations evolve to insist that our political leaders have farming and food at the heart of the discussions.”

Budget boost

The IFA said it wanted to maintain the “closest possible trading relationship” between the UK and EU, while “preserving the value” of the UK market. It also called for a strong Common Agricultural Policy budget following the UK’s departure.

This, it said, was “critical” for farm incomes, farm output and economic activity in rural Ireland.

Mr Healy said the disruption to trade between the Republic and the North, and Ireland and Britain, would be minimised by the UK remaining within the Customs Union.

However, if the UK exits the Customs Union, there must be a “comprehensive” free trade agreement between the EU and UK which includes a number of specific elements for agriculture and food.

These include a tariff-free trade for agricultural products and food; the maintenance of equivalent standards on food safety, animal health, welfare and the environment; and the application of the common external tariff for imports to both the EU and UK.

Mr Healy said the threat of Brexit was the “most significant challenge” to face the Republic’s farming and food sector since the formation of the State.

He said farmers expected the Government to launch a “major diplomatic offensive” at EU level that “places our issues at the heart of the negotiations”.

Implications stark

“The implications of a hard Brexit are stark,” he said. “The ESRI estimates a potential reduction of EU trade to the UK of over 60 per cent for dairy and 85 per cent for meat.

“Translating this to an Irish context would mean a fall of €1.5 billion in meat exports, with dairy exports falling by over €600 million.”

The IFA is to hold a major Brexit event on April 24th ahead of the EU summit on April 29th. It is expected to be attended by EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and more than 600 farmers.