IFA and representatives from the agri-food industry met Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday (Wednesday, April 26) to put forward the key issues for the sector arising from Brexit ahead of the crucial EU Summit on Saturday.
Representatives from Food Drink Ireland, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) and the Irish Dairy Industry Association joined IFA president Joe Healy in making a strong case for the measures needed by the sector. Joe said: “Brexit has the potential to have a devastating impact on farming and food. It’s our largest indigenous sector and the UK is our most important market. Our message to the Taoiseach was clear: the sector’s issues have to be at the forefront of what is agreed by the EU leaders next weekend.”
Philip Carroll, chairman of MII said that, ‘the food industry delegation highlighted the critical importance of business certainty through the negotiation process to a new trading relationship with the UK and therefore the absolute need for a transition period’. He also outlined, ‘the need for the Government to act immediately on a series of short-term measures to ensure that Irish food exports maintain their market share in the UK while negotiations are ongoing’.
The delegation identified the key priorities for the sector in relation to the EU negotiating mandate for the Brexit negotiations. These were:
• Discussions on the future EU-UK trading relationship – to minimise economic uncertainty and the potential for major economic damage for exposed sectors, discussions on the future EU-UK relationship must be commenced early in the negotiating process.
• Maintaining access to and the value of the UK market – retention of free access to and maintenance of the value of the UK market is of critical importance. In addition, disruption to the highly integrated trade flows between Ireland and Northern Ireland must be minimised. To achieve this, a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and UK is required, with the optimum outcome that the UK remains within the EU Customs Union. This FTA states that both sides must commit to negotiate a balanced agreement that prioritises continued tariff and barrier-free trade, long-term growth, investment, and stability; the agreement should take account of the special case of the island of Ireland, ensuring that the highly integrated supply chains can continue to operate with free movement of goods and services; and In acceding to a FTA with the UK, the EU must ensure that the value of the UK market is not undermined through lower cost imports, which do not meet the standards required of the EU agri-food sector.
• Short and medium-term measures – The relaxation of state aids restrictions at both farming and industry level that impact on the ability of Ireland to address critical stabilisation support measures and strategic transformative initiatives; direct support for farmers through Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) market support or other measures to be made available in the event of further Sterling depreciation during exit negotiations; an intense and ongoing focus on cost competitiveness led by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in areas such as labour, energy and insurance; the re-introduction of the Employment Subsidy Scheme and the Enterprise Stabilisation measures which were last applied during the financial crisis in 2009-2011; €25m in funding for market diversification and product innovation measures, administered by Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland; in addition, trade support measures including export trade financing and export credit guarantees to support the continued development of international export markets; a substantial increase in resourcing of the international market access unit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; and an access to finance package that includes sustainable financing via funding from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland.
• CAP budget post-2020 – EU solidarity with farmers requires that there must be no reduction in the CAP budget arising from the UK exit.
• Transitional arrangements – the planning and preparation for any new FTA arrangements must be put in place for businesses, as required. It is critical that companies retain as full access to each other’s markets as possible. The arrangements must prioritise tariffs and import quota regimes; and overall, customs procedures must be dealt with as part of the first phase of Article 50 negotiations.