IFA to push for Brexit ‘triple safety lock’

The IFA’s Brexit policy will be underpinned by three core themes: the maintenance of the closest possible trading relationship between the EU and the UK; the value of the UK market to be maintained; and the securing of a fully-funded CAP.

This was the key message delivered by the IFA President, Joe Healy, at the organisation’s Brexit conference today in Goffs, Co. Kildare.

Healy said that Ireland is the most exposed EU member state, where Brexit is concerned.

Farming and food generates economic activity in every parish, village and town across Ireland, supporting 300,000 jobs directly and indirectly. That’s what’s at stake in the Brexit negotiations.

“And the stakes are highest in our farming and food sectors. Approximately 40%, or €4 billion of our exports, go to the UK each year. That’s 50% of our beef, one-third of our dairy, over half of our pigmeat exports, and more than 90% of all Irish mushroom exports,” he said.

Border with Northern Ireland

With regard to Brexit negotiations, Healy confirmed that the border creates serious challenges.

“Every year, thousands of animals and huge volumes of agricultural produce cross the border to Northern Ireland for further finishing or processing, as part of a highly integrated supply chain.

“These trading links have built up over many years and are critically important for farmers and processors on both sides of the border.

Brexit presents a real risk of a ‘hard’ border, with customs checks and other controls.

The IFA President said that defending the European model of farming is a cornerstone of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

“The EU applies tariffs on imports from non-EU countries to protect the market for European farmers,” he explained.

“A cheap food policy in the UK would fatally undermine Irish and EU exports and hit farmer prices. Farmers across all sectors, particularly in the drystock sectors, are hugely dependent on direct payments.

We cannot allow that to happen. Irish farmers do not want to hear any talk of future cuts in direct payments.

‘A threat to every sector in Irish agriculture’

According to Healy, the Irish beef sector is most exposed to a bad Brexit deal.

“For the beef sector, the threat from Brexit is frightening. The UK is the market for 50% or 270,000t of Irish beef exports,” he said.

“The IFA strongly supports efforts to secure new markets for Irish beef. However, the reality is that any damage to our position on the UK market would see significant displacement of Irish beef onto EU markets, such as France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.

This would destabilise the EU beef market, undermining price returns to farmers – not just in Ireland but across Europe.

Healy said that Brexit also presents a particular threat for milk processors dependent on an ‘all-Ireland’ milk pool.

“The same goes for the pigmeat and poultry sectors, where large volumes of produce are moving across the border for processing.

“In the sheep sector, the key issue is the future destination of large volumes of New Zealand lamb imports.

“Across virtually every sector in agriculture, from beef, dairy and lamb, to mushrooms and forestry, there is a real threat from Brexit,” Healy warned.