The prospect of a hard Brexit deal has become more likely in the wake of recent comments by the UK authorities, according to ICSA General Secretary Eddie Punch.

And this could have serious consequences for Ireland’s beef industry.

Punch confirmed that the Prime Minister Theresa May will deliver a major speech on this matter tomorrow.

“Last week we saw her commit to a free trade deal with New Zealand once Brexit becomes a reality. There is a significant number of Brexiteers in the UK who see leaving the EU as an opportunity to import cheap food from Commonwealth countries, such as New Zealand and Australia.

“And, no doubt, the same principle holds where other food exporting nations are concerned, including Brazil, the entire Mercosur group and the US.”

Punch believes that the implications of a hard Brexit could be very significant for the Irish beef industry.

Half our beef is currently exported to Britain. This is a trade relationship that as been built up over many years.

“A hard Brexit introduces the possibility of tariffs being introduced on beef exports from Ireland to the UK. The way this matter is handled will, obviously, be dealt with in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

“One option that might be put on the table is that of tariff-free quotas being introduced for beef.”

Punch said that the current trade negotiations under way between the EU and the US, Canada and Mercosur are dead in the water.

“The reality is that negotiations up to this point have involved an EU of 28 Member States. The UK leaving the EU changes this premise.”

Punch also believes that the current trade deals between the EU and countries such as New Zealand should be re-assessed.

“New Zealand enjoys a tariff-free quota on sheepmeat exports into the EU, most of which is destined for the UK market.

“But this facility should be removed if that country agrees its own free trade deal with the UK, post-Brexit.”