IFA goes to Brussels seeking ‘certainty’ on Brexit measures

Farming group wants details of aid plans for members anxious about UK’s EU departure

Half of the beef produced in Ireland  goes to the UK as does  virtually all of the  mushrooms produced here.  File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.

Half of the beef produced in Ireland goes to the UK as does virtually all of the mushrooms produced here. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.

 

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) is to seek greater detail on plans for financial and other aid to its members in the event of a no-deal Brexit at a meeting on Wednesday.

IFA president Joe Healy will meet EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan in Brussels where he will seek specifics on how a UK transfer to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules could be mitigated.

It follows the heavy defeat of Theresa May’s proposed exit agreement in the House of Commons on Tuesday, an expected development that has nonetheless furthered anxiety in the farming sector.

“We need information that will return a level of certainty to the trade,” Mr Healy said ahead of the meeting.

While IFA officials regularly hold talks with commission, there is now a greater sense of urgency with the Brexit deadline in late March looming and the need to see specific measures put in place.

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“This meeting is different in the sense that the vote was yesterday evening...it has moved on a notch; the concern has heightened,” Mr Healy said.

‘Nothing definite’

There has been “nothing definite” to date about existing contingency plans in the way of finances, he explained, but there is also an acknowledgement that the focus must currently be on striking a deal with the UK.

As well as financial assistance for farmers, other measures that could be taken include market interventions such as setting a price floor for Irish beef sales.

While the focus remains on finding a deal, any sudden disruption to the current arrangements would be hugely problematic to the Irish industry.

Even with Brexit nerves, €4.5 billion or 37 per cent of all food exports from Ireland went to the UK last year, an increase of 2 per cent on 2017. Half of Irish beef goes to the UK and virtually all of its mushroom production.

The meeting comes a day after farming organisations across Ireland and the UK met to discuss the threat of a no-deal departure. Even with differing competitive considerations, there was a unanimous position that an adoption of WTO rules would be catastrophic to food suppliers.

“If I was to describe [the mood of the meeting] in one word it would be ‘uncertainty’, similar to where we are ourselves,” he said. “Uncertainty is the enemy of any business.”

UK producers are facing the dual threat of losing EU export markets and being undercut at home by cheaper imports.

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