Food exports to Britain grow amid calls for special fund to fight effects of hard Brexit

There was steady growth in food and live animal exports to Britain between January and April, despite mounting concerns over Brexit and political instability in the UK.

The latest data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed growth was 6% for the period compared to 2016, with total food and live animal exports reaching €1.2 billion. For the month of April, year-on-year growth was lower at 3% – amounting to €292 million.

This is despite a tumultuous period across the water where the Conservative Party lost its majority in the House of Commons in the recent General Election, forcing it to partner with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) before the Brexit negotiations commenced on Monday, June 19.

The CSO figures came after President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) John Comer cautioned that uncertainty surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU “was becoming more pervasive and concerning”.

He said the association was doubling its lobbying efforts to convince the government to introduce a Farm Management Deposit Scheme, that would allow individuals to hedge against “bad years” through a rainy day fund with “sensible tax regulations”.

But, despite the weakening of sterling against the euro, imports from Britain were only up 2% over the four-month period compared to last year, totalling €868 million. Overall, the trade balance with Britain was positive in April, with exports standing at almost €1.39 billion and imports valued at €1.36 billion.

Globally, live animal shipments rose 66% to €103 million during the four-month period, while dairy exports were up 23% to €601 million. This comes amid speculation that live animal exports to Turkey will continue to grow as the year progresses.

Still, Comer called on the government to put “Brexit proofing” at the heart of Budget 2018 in order to protect the industries most exposed to the damaging effects of a hard exit.

He said: “An agreement that eliminates the risk of the imposition of tariffs is an absolute requirement if we are to protect our hugely exposed agri-food sector.

“Brexit is less than two years away and it’s difficult to imagine a more confused and uncertain situation.

We have to start making certain those things which we at least can make certain and the ICMSA firmly believes that the next two budgets need to implement initiatives to support exposed sectors such as the agri-food sector.

For the economy as a whole, the CSO data showed goods exports were down 12% – or almost €1.3 billion – in April compared to March, whereas goods imports were up 9% to €6.2 billion. This meant the trade surplus was down 34% to €3.4 billion for the month.