Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) presidential candidate Tim Cullinan has called on the Government to “take a strong line” on the issue of free trade negotiations between the UK and EU.

Speaking at a presidential election hustings in Co. Donegal last night, the current IFA national treasurer warned of the “massive disruption” that would hit the beef and dairy sectors in terms of exports if a “proper free trade agreement” between the EU and UK is not achieved.

“While the focus now is all about the British elections, the real challenge for this country is the deadline of December 2020 for the conclusion of the trade negotiations between the EU and the UK,” Cullinan stressed.

In the absence of an agreement, the UK could still fall off the cliff edge onto WTO [World Trade Organization] rules which would be catastrophic for Irish farmers and food processors.

“Negotiations on the free trade agreement must commence immediately and I am calling on the Government to take a strong line with the European Commission, setting out our position, as Ireland will be more adversely affected than any other EU country,” he added.

The Co. Tipperary based pig farmer pledged that, should he get the IFA’s top job, he would put forward a “strong, clear and well-presented case on behalf of Irish farmers”.

He also said that he would put agriculture and rural Ireland “top of the agenda” at the country’s next general election.

I very much welcome assurances given by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar…that there won’t be any checks, tariffs or quotas on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. However, the situation for food products from the Republic of Ireland being exported to Great Britain is still anything but certain.

“While the UK withdrawal agreement has yet to be ratified by the British parliament, it does contain an absolute commitment to avoiding trade barriers between north and south on the island of Ireland. What we must now strive for is similar conditions for trade in agricultural food products between these islands,” Cullinan concluded.