Farmer and meat industry representatives in Northern Ireland have warned that a no-deal Brexit is the "absolute worst possible outcome" for Northern Ireland's £1.3 billion beef and lamb industry.
As negotiations on how the United Kingdom exits the European Union appear to be reaching a climax the Ulster Farmers' Union, the North's Livestock and Meat Commission, and Meat Exporters' Association have demanded that "every effort" is made to avoid Britain crashing out of the EU.
"A no-deal will jeopardise our ability to export. It will undermine our domestic market. It is crucial decision-makers fully understand the devastating economic and social impact it will have on Northern Ireland, " the three organisations said on Thursday.
“This is not project fear. This is project fact,” they added.
They said a no-deal would result in steep tariff and regulatory barriers leading to “disastrous consequences for our farming industry”.
"In terms of tariffs, global competitors, such as USA and Brazil, will be able to export 230,000 tonnes of beef to the UK, tariff free. While anything above that will be subject to only half the EU's common external tariff, increasing competition locally from non-EU cheaper produce," they said.
‘Forecast is grim’
“As for lamb, despite the intention to apply maximum tariffs on lamb imports, the forecast is grim. The UK is self-sufficient for lamb and the current market is finely balanced,” they added.
"In a no-deal scenario, EU tariffs will freeze the UK out of the European market while at home, with an allocated quota of 114,000 tonnes for New Zealand lamb, the UK market will be oversupplied and farm gate prices will ultimately suffer," they said.
“All this, combined with no tariffs or checks on agricultural goods travelling from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland – effectively creating a legal ‘back door’ to the UK market – and no reciprocal arrangement on offer, the facts show Northern Ireland’s beef and lamb industry is facing a crisis.”
The Ulster Farmers' Union and the two meat organisations also said they faced much more onerous health and regulatory checks than outside competitors.
They added that no-deal export regulations for live cattle and sheep will cause “irreparable damage” to marts in Northern Ireland. They explained that “livestock exports to the EU will no longer be able to transit through a market prior to export” as “regulations state animals must remain on the farm of birth or their previous holding for at least 40 days before they are eligible for export”.
The organisations added, “As parliament continues to agonisingly deliberate over the UK’s exit from the EU, [the British] government is ramping up its “no-deal” contingency preparations. Other devolved regions in the UK have allocated multimillion pound budgets to help businesses cope.
“Northern Ireland is widely recognised as the region that will suffer the most in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It is essential that government is primed to commit financial support to the beef and lamb sector to help mitigate the significant damage caused.”