Free trade between the Republic of Ireland and the UK post-Brexit has been described as an advantage for both countries by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Speaking at the final day of the National Ploughing Championships in Screggan, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, the Taoiseach underlined the fact that one of the key objectives in the Brexit negotiations is to continue to have free trade between the Republic of Ireland and all of the UK.

“That is particularly important for the agri-food sector, because 40% of our exports go to Britain. But I had a look at the figures today and I was actually fascinated to learn something that I didn’t know before.

There is actually almost as much trade going the other way. Where we might sell about €5 billion in agri-food products to Britain, they sell about €4 billion.

“So the trade is going both ways. One of the things I will be saying to Prime Minister [Threasa] May when I see her on Monday is that it’s in the interests of both countries that we maintain free trade,” Taoiseach Varadkar said.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach also referenced the fact that a ministerial position within the Irish government with sole responsibility for Brexit hasn’t been created.

“I’ve given Simon Coveney the role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, with special responsibility for Brexit. Having a standalone Brexit minister doesn’t make sense.

“No other country has one, except for the country that is leaving. The way European politics works is that you meet your counterparts, so European ministers meet European ministers, foreign ministers meet foreign ministers, finance ministers meet finance ministers and prime ministers meet prime ministers.

“A Brexit minister would have no one to meet. I don’t think that would be a useful person quite frankly. That’s why I have combined in with the role of foreign affairs,” he said.

Finance and farm safety

As well as Brexit, the Taoiseach also highlighted the fact that the government is considering introducing low-cost loans for farmers in Budget 2018.

It is absolutely something that is under consideration for Budget 2018. I’m not allowed to make any announcements today about the budget, because no firm decisions are made.

“We do appreciate the real value of access to finance for farmers, and access to low-cost loans in particular – so it is absolutely something that we are looking at,” he said.

Farm safety is also a key priority for the government and something it is acutely aware of, he added.

“We have had 16 deaths on Irish farms this year so far, which is an enormous number. We used to see a lot of deaths in construction in particular and changes were made to make that industry much safer.

“We’re happy to consider any measure really that will reduce the number of injuries and reduce the number of fatalities that occur on farms. But I don’t think legislation on its own provides a solution.

“A lot of it is going to be about information and about education in particular. I think we need to look at what has worked in other industries,” Taoiseach Varadkar concluded.