Signed by leaders of 35 of the UK’s major food industry associations, an open letter addressed to the British government requested a ‘clear and early statement’ that maintaining trade with Ireland is a priority in negotiations.
Signatories included heads of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the British Retail Consortium and the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association.
The letter admonished the government against leaving negotiations too late and producing “a cliff-edge scenario that results in a sudden transformation to our trading arrangements with Ireland would be hugely damaging for our industry and for the wider economy on both sides of the border.
“New disruptive customs barriers, port health controls and other costly bureaucratic requirements that impede the movement of goods and workers must be avoided. They would disrupt established supply chain networks that operate across the UK and Ireland and would cause significant economic damage while adding to existing food price inflation faced by consumers.”
‘Seamless and frictionless’
Speaking in Dublin in January, UK prime minister Theresa May agreed with Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny there should be no hard border following the UK’s departure from the EU.
May said: “Of course there are elements of full membership of the customs union that would restrict our ability to trade and do trade agreements with other parts of the world.
“But I believe, and this is what we are working on, that we need to find a solution which enables us to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland so that we can continue to see the trade, the everyday movements, that we have seen up to now.”
Besides promising a ‘red white and blue Brexit’ May has yet to unveil any Brexit plans in detail, and plans for maintaining the current relationship with Ireland also remain in the dark.
‘We could go on.’
The letter highlighted the importance of UK agri-food industry to both the UK and Ireland, saying: “[The Republic] buys more from us than the United States, China, Russia, Brazil, Canada and Japan combined. Nearly a fifth of UK food and drink exports go to Ireland, with more than a third of Ireland's reaching UK shores. A quarter of all Northern Irish milk is processed in the South. More than half of Irish beef and cheese goes to the UK. The UK supplies 80% of the flour used in the Republic. We could go on.”
Matthew Evans, corporate affairs executive at FDF, told FoodNavigator: “This complete interdependence is essential to ensuring our food security and to feeding both countries. We are having continuing and constructive dialogue with Government around this issue and other matters of concern – whether access to workforce, a stable regulatory framework, or the future trading environment.
“Article 50 has yet to be triggered. However, we believe the question of what will happen to trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland once the UK leaves the EU is crucial and should be agreed at the earliest possible opportunity in order to provide certainty and predictability for industry.”
Food and drink is the largest industry in the UK, employing over four million people and in 2016 contributed over €20bn to the British economy for the first time in history.
Article 50 is expected to be triggered in the coming months.