Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) Michael Creed addressed over 600 farmers of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) in Ko Kildare, Ireland on Monday to lay out his plans for Brexit negotiations.
The UK is Ireland’s biggest trading partner with 41% of Irish food and drink exports sent to the UK – worth some €4.4bn per year.
Creed stressed the “special relationship” should be treated as uniquely important in the coming Brexit negotiations, observing that without a trade deal the Irish market could stand to lose 20,000 jobs as exports would likely fall by around 40%.
Already in 2016 the weakening of the pound sterling resulted in a drop of €570m worth of exports; Creed warned there would be “no upside” to Brexit, his new proposals amount to damage control.
President of the IFA Joe Healy addressed the meeting and acknowledged, “The implications of Brexit for Ireland are clear – and they are stark. Ireland is the most exposed EU Member State, and the stakes are highest in our farming and food sector. The border creates serious challenges. Every year, thousands of animals and huge volumes of agricultural produce cross the border to Northern Ireland for further finishing or processing, as part of a highly integrated supply chain.”
Warning against entering the Brexit process unprepared and allowing Ireland to be ‘punished’, Creed laid out seven key plans he believes essential for protecting Irish food industry interests.
First – the establishment of a committee dedicated to ensuring market access, which will meet monthly to discuss progress and issues with international market access applications for the industry
Second – giving new resources to DAFM to work toward guaranteeing market access in third countries by ensuring the industry meets required standards in any given country
Third - Bord Bia, Ireland’s food industry trade association, will be commissioned by DAFM to analyse potential third country markets for new trade deals and Irish exports.
Fourth – New funding for ‘trade missions’ to foreign countries to promote Irish produce and encourage import of Irish food
Fifth – Assessment of the ‘conditions of certification’ which currently control the export market and in some cases restrict the ease of exports and trade; Creed says DAFM should be funded to help the industry review these standards
Sixth – Increase communication with the European Commission and enlist its help in resolving trade issues and easing the flow of exports to EU countries
Seventh – Creation of a new website collecting information on all open markets and products to facilitate and encourage trade.
Creed said that already a huge amount of consultation and planning has been carried out, and that DAFM and the industry will enter the Brexit process “well prepared”.
Addressing the Irish agriculture commissioner to the EU Phil Hogan, Healy finished his speech by reiterating the EU’s responsibility in aiding Ireland’s efforts to avoid catastrophe, “Commissioner, the ball is about to be thrown in on the Brexit negotiations. To put it plainly, this is senior hurling. This is about Europe showing its commitment to Irish farming, it is about jobs, it’s about rural communities, it’s about farm families. Commissioner, Ireland’s farmers expect you to deliver.”