PM in Belfast: UFU warns of ‘catastrophic consequences’ for industry

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has used a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May to warn of the “catastrophic consequences” a ‘no-deal’ exit would have for Northern Ireland’s farming industry.

UFU chief executive Wesley Aston said he urged the Prime Minister to do everything in her power to secure a Brexit deal.

“We stressed to her it is crucial that a deal is secured and soon,” he said.

The current uncertainty is bad for business and our customers are seeking more clarity on what is to happen after March 29.

Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry is worth approximately £4.5 billion to the Northern Ireland economy and employs around 100,000 people.

Aston said: “The importance of agri-food and farming to Northern Ireland cannot be underestimated. It was encouraging that the Prime Minister recognised both this and our dependence on external trade.

“We have a world-class reputation and produce food to some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the world. A ‘no deal’ Brexit puts the future of the entire industry in jeopardy.”

Without a deal, it’s likely steep EU tariffs will be applied to agricultural goods from the UK, effectively pricing these exports on the agri-food industry out of the market.

Additionally, it’s feared the UK government is likely to offer lower import tariffs in order to deliver on its promise of keeping food prices stable for consumers.

Under WTO rules, such tariffs would have to be available to trading partners across the globe.

“We are already seeing evidence the government is seriously considering lowering import tariffs in the event of a no deal,” he said.

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“This would be disastrous for farmers, as the market would be flooded with cheaper, and possibly lower standard food imports. Farm gate prices would be undercut and local farmers would be unable to compete,” said the UFU chief executive.

From the outset of Brexit negotiations, the UFU has lobbied for a solution which does not hamper trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain while also maintaining frictionless trade with the rest of the EU.

“The UFU is firmly focused on what is best for the future of our family-run businesses in Northern Ireland. Politicians made a number of promises during the Brexit campaign, and farmers are looking to them to deliver. A no deal is the worst possible outcome and must be avoided at all cost,” added Aston.