There is mounting concern in political and farming circles that the UK is on the cusp of sealing a trade deal with Australia that could have a major impact on Irish beef exports to Britain.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s government is reportedly set to agree to a deal that would see the phasing out of tariffs on beef and lamb imports from Australia.
It comes despite concerns among some in Mr Johnson’s own Cabinet and British farmers’ fears Australian meat will undercut their own prices.
An Irish Government source said the matter is being closely monitored but also pointed out the UK is free to pursue trade deals with other countries post-Brexit. The source said there is concern at the situation as Britain is an "enormous outlet" for Irish beef adding: "Anything that could potentially undercut from a financial and standards point of view a key market for Ireland is something that the Government will be keeping a close eye on." On efforts to mitigate the impact of a deal, the source pointed to ongoing efforts to seek new markets for Irish beef with South Korea mentioned as a key target.
Sinn Féin's agriculture spokesman Matt Carthy called for the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to commission an impact assessment on the implication of a UK-Australia trade deal on Irish farmers.
He said: “The UK-Australia trade deal will set the template for future British trade deals, including with the US, so the wider implications could potentially be devastating.”
Mr Carthy added: "This British trade agenda, coupled with a EU trade policy that would see hundreds of thousands of beef being imported from countries like Brazil, presents a nightmare scenario for Irish farming."
On the prospect of a UK-Australia deal that will impact Irish farmers, Fianna Fáil’s Mr McConalogue, said: “I am continually aware of the international global trade dynamic and its potential impact on Irish agriculture. My key focus, at all times, is the protection and enhancement of the incomes of our farmers, fishers and food producers.”
Irish Farming Association president Tim Cullinan called on the Government to safeguard Ireland's remaining share of the EU's Brexit compensation fund amid an expectation that the State is to lose around €200 million of its €1 billion allocation to France. He said the UK deal with Australia is "a serious concern for us" and "the Brexit emergency fund will be critical now."
Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, a former President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) said: "As sure as night follows day Boris Johnson is going to pursue trade deals with other countries".
“It is imperative that we have to reduce our reliance on the UK market.”
He said it reinforces the need for the new Glanbia plant on the Kilkenny-Waterford border which has been opposed by environmental organisation An Taisce.
Tipperary TD Mr Cahill said the plant was part of efforts to diversify Ireland’s dairy products in a bid to reduce dependenceon the British market.