‘If we lose the UK beef market, we will see plant closures and job losses’

If tariffs were to come in and we loose the UK market, we will see plant closures and job losses. It’s unsustainable to think that we can do without the UK market, according to Cormac Healy, senior director of Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

Speaking on RTE’s Sean O’Rourke show, today (Thursday, February 21), Healy highlighted that the price today in Brazil for cattle is “the equivalent of €2.16/kg and in Uruguay it’s €2.70/kg”.

He added that in Ireland, “the price for steers is on average €3.85 and for heifers, it’s €4.00. So, there’s no question that these countries can supply beef at very, very competitive rates.

In terms of what’s come out this week, there’s a lot of speculation. We haven’t seen yet what the British government will actually adapt in terms of its tariff approach.

The MII director said that an orderly Brexit “is becoming more challenging by the day in terms of developments in London”.

Continuing, Healy explained: “The tariffs can be the equivalent of 60% on top of the cost of the product. The only mechanism we can see, as an industry, is that there is some sort of tariff-support mechanism brought into offset that.

“Our key principal here is that after decades of building up the UK market, we want to be able to continue to supply it and not leave the market open to other competitors.”

Highlighting the importance of the beef sector to the Irish industry, Healy said: “There’s 15,000 jobs directly in the overall processing sector. There’s upwards of 100,000 farmers in one way or another connected with the beef industry and many indirect downstream jobs in logistics and transport.”

Concluding, the MII director expressed concerns that the land bridge which is extensively used for food moving to the continent from Ireland, in the context of a no-deal Brexit, “will be severely disrupted”.

“We don’t believe that there is sufficient capacity there at this point and time to go direct from Ireland to the continent.”