EU may facilitate storage of Irish beef if UK crashes out on Friday

Farmers should ‘keep cows at home’ in immediate wake of a no-deal Brexit, Phil Hogan suggests

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said the union had considerable experience in intervening in agri-food crises and stood ready to help out. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said the union had considerable experience in intervening in agri-food crises and stood ready to help out. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

 

Emergency EU and national measures to put excess Irish beef into private storage and a major marketing drive into EU markets are likely in the event of a no-deal Brexit on Friday.

The EU commission has also eased state subsidy rules for the agri-food sector and may help with farmer diversification away from beef, journalists were told in Brussels on Monday.

The UK currently takes the same share of Irish beef exports as the rest of the EU put together.

“Common sense may still prevail,” EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said of the dangers of no-deal Brexit which remains a “heightened risk”.

“No deal makes no sense,” the former Irish government minister said.

Briefing journalists on commission plans for that eventuality, Mr Hogan said it was ready with a full toolbox of market support mechanisms should the UK crash out of the union. He said the union had considerable experience in intervening in agri-food crises and stood ready to help out.

But Mr Hogan remained very short on specifics about what measures would be applied on the Irish Border in a no-deal scenario.

Asked by The Irish Times if it could move some cattle to a market across the Border on Saturday, Mr Hogan suggested to “keep your cows at home for a couple of days”.

He spoke about Commission’s determination to protect the Belfast Agreement and ensure a frictionless Border, but would not be drawn on what measures the EU anticipates on the Border and which are the subject of continuing “intensive” talks with Dublin.

Working off the UK’s published proposed tariff schedule as a guide, Mr Hogan said the commission was ready to address particular problems in the most affected countries and sectors, specifically citing the beef, poultry pigmeat, sugar and rice sectors, which will all face new tariffs entering the UK and whose UK sales, he said, could be severely affected by a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Hogan would not say which market support mechanisms would be used by the commission but officials spoke of aids to private storage, and marketing and diversification support, and a willingness to assist member state programmes. It is most unlikely to engage in price support intervention, one official said.

Another official cited recent approval of Irish state aids to cheese makers Carberry Food Ingredients to support a switch from cheddar production destined for the UK to mozzarella production for the Chinese market.

Mr Hogan warned that the challenge of no-deal was not simply about new tariffs but the delays and administrative barriers that customs controls and veterinary and health SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) checks would cause. That was particularly so, he said, for the perishable fruit and vegetable sector which would not face tariffs but depended on “just in time” deliveries.

He said the EU had a €24 billion agri-food surplus with the UK. Spain alone exports €3 billion worth of fruit and vegetables to the UK, while Ireland and Poland provide 90 per cent of UK mushroom imports. In the latter cases there are no alternative supplies available. UK lamb exports are also expected to be hard hit.