‘Brexit is top priority for DAERA’

Northern Ireland’s agri-food sectors are making real progress in developing policies that will put these industries on a sustainable footing once the UK leaves the EU, according to Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Brexit Director Graeme Wilkin.

“We are continually seeking the views of all agri-food stakeholder groups on Brexit,” Wilkin said during a seminar at the Balmoral Show.

“And this is an ongoing process. In addition, we are working closely with a number of other government departments here in Northern Ireland, so as to develop a cohesive response to Brexit.”

He added that close links had also been forged with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London, key policymakers in the Welsh and Scottish administrations, and with colleagues in Dublin and Brussels.

Wilkin said that work on the development of a Brexit strategy that has already been undertaken has focused on identifying ‘desired outcomes’ rather than the rigid procedures that would be required to achieve those outcomes.

DAERA wants a Brexit trade deal that will see the continuation of strong and unfettered commercial linkages with the EU-27.

“In practical terms, this means having tariff-free trading arrangements with the minimal level of constraint imposed on exporters. Settling the cross-border challenge is of paramount importance. Approximately £200 million worth of agricultural products crosses the border on an annual basis.

It is also important that our trading links with the rest of the UK remain totally unhindered.

Turning to the issue of future farm support arrangements, Wilkin said that DAERA is focusing on three main policy platforms. These are: the development of a farming sector that has the capacity to significantly grow its output on a sustainable basis; the establishment of a much more transparent agri-food chain; and the securing of adequately-funded farm support measures.

He admitted that change was inevitable in terms of the way primary agriculture will be funded in future.

It’s important that an adequate transition period is put in place, so as to allow the farming sectors to acclimatise to these new arrangements.

DAERA Permanent Secretary Noel Lavery told the seminar that developing the correct Brexit strategy was his department’s most important priority.

“Brexit is the focus of everything we do. And it is an issue that we are addressing in full partnership with all of the relevant stakeholder groups,” he said.