Confirmation that the UK will apply tariffs on food imports in a no-deal Brexit "demonstrates the gravity of the situation for the Irish farming sector", the Irish Farmers Association has said.
The group raised concerns about the impact on Irish food exports to the UK after British environment secretary Michael Gove publicly rejected a zero-tariff regime after Britain quits the EU. The UK has not yet confirmed what level of tariffs it will apply, but if they are based on World Trade Organisation levels then food will be the sector hit most severely.
The IFA called on Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and the EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan to "come forward immediately with a plan for comprehensive market supports, including direct payments to Irish farmers in the event of a no-deal Brexit".
Mr Creed has said that tariffs on Irish food imports into the UK would come to about €1.7 billion a year, warning of an “existential challenge” to the farming sector if the UK were to crash out of the EU without a deal at the end of next month.
The Government has opened discussion with the EU Commission about seeking exceptional aid and a loosening of strict State aid rules in order to support Irish farmers and businesses in a no-deal Brexit.
Separately, Meat Industry Ireland, an Ibec organisation representing the meat processing industry in Ireland, said that tariffs and other barriers to trade after a no-deal Brexit “would decimate trade and seriously damage production in Ireland, resulting in jobs losses and a major hit to rural economies”.
It said tariffs on Irish beef imports into the UK would be around €750 million on current trade levels, effectively pricing Irish beef out of the UK market. It has called on the Government and the European Commission to introduce a tariff-support mechanism to offset the tariffs and allow Irish farmers and processors to continue to trade in the UK market.
“If a no-deal scenario sees the imposition of tariffs by both the UK and EU, this is effectively taking revenue out of the agri-food sector and into the coffers of London and Brussels, and therefore it is justified that supports would be introduced to offset the damaging impact on trade, business and jobs” said Cormac Healy of Meat Industry Ireland.
Mr Gove told the UK's National Farmers Union annual conference in Birmingham that reports Britain would operate a zero-tariff regime to secure frictionless trade in a no-deal scenario were "not accurate".
“One thing I can reassure you, it will not be the case that we will have zero-rate tariffs on products. There will be protections for sensitive sections of agriculture and food production,” the British minister said.
He hinted that tariffs would apply to beef and “particularly” lamb, citing livestock farmers as the most vulnerable in a no-deal scenario.
The UK is the Republic’s largest and most lucrative trading partner for agri-food, accounting for half of all beef exports. Agri-food exports to the UK totalled €5.2 billion in 2017, or almost 40 per cent of food exports.
The IFA has warned that the already loss-making Irish beef industry would face €750 million in tariffs in a no-deal scenario, and that 70,000 beef farmers would be put out of business as a result. – Additional reporting: Guardian