It is imperative that trade talks run parallel with the Brexit negotiations, according to Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association President Kent.

At a recent meeting in the House of Commons, Kent told the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom, that the fortunes of UK and Irish farmers are intrinsically linked.

“The agriculture ties between our two countries are so deeply rooted it is blatantly clear that those links need to be recognised as vital and protected as such.

“This was acknowledged by Secretary Leadsom this evening. Therefore, there needs to be trade talks running parallel with the Brexit negotiations.

It is simply too late to start negotiating a trade deal between the UK and Europe only after Brexit negotiations have concluded.

“It is crucial to keep Irish farming interests front and centre at all stages of Brexit negotiations, both from an EU and a UK perspective,” he said.

The ICSA is making this case in Brussels and the meeting on Tuesday night, February 7, in the House of Commons provided an opportunity to make that case directly to Westminster, Kent added.

During the meeting, Leadsom urged the ICSA to keep pressure on the EU so that the unique links between Ireland and the UK can be preserved, he said.

Both Ireland and the UK need to continue to trade with each other with minimum disruption, with no tariffs and through maintaining the equivalent standards that have been commonly developed over many years.

“Currently, Ireland exports 50% of the beef we produce to the UK. This is quality, grass fed beef produced to the same exacting standards as UK farmers.

“In 2016 this trade was worth €1.2 billion. We want to continue to supply British consumers, but with tariffs the economics don’t work for our farmers and don’t work for UK consumers.

Irish farmers have already taken a hit as a result of Brexit that cannot be sustained and needs to be reversed. Farmers are at a crossroads regarding farm decisions.

“At current levels it is just not sustainable at farm gate level. We have to cut production until we have a clearer view of what trade deal will be done between the UK and EU,” the ICSA President said.

Kent also raised concerns with Leadsom about the risk of the UK market being flooded with New Zealand lamb or South American and Canadian beef, and sought assurances that this would be limited.

In addition, he drew attention to the need for the live export trade to the UK and Northern Ireland to be developed.

The ICSA met with Leadsom and Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, as part of a coalition of British, Northern Ireland, Scottish, Welsh and Irish farming organisations, ‘Fairness for Farmers in Europe’.

The interests beef and sheep farmers will continue to be kept at centre stage in the Brexit talks by the ICSA, Kent said.