‘UK market an enormous value to Irish farming and food production’

The value of the UK market to Irish farming and food production is enormous, according to the President of the ICMSA John Comer.

Comer was speaking following a visit of a delegation comprising of farm organisations from both jurisdictions of Ireland to the House of Commons.

He said the visit represents a real opportunity to ‘get across’ to UK parliamentarians the full extent and value of the food trade in both directions.

There is an overwhelming need to safeguard that as the Brexit process begins with the widely expected ‘triggering’ of Article 50 next month, Comer believes.

The ICMSA wanted to emphasise the facts around the trade from Ireland to the UK and the very long and mutually beneficial nature of Irish food and agri-exports, he added.

From Ireland’s point-of-view, Comer said, the statistics were enormous with over 41% of the country’s total food and drink exports going to the UK, a figure that he estimated at around €4.4 billion.

Ireland is the second largest suppliers of food to the UK, he said.

In addition to the 52% of total beef production that goes to the UK market, Ireland also exported some 65,000 head of cattle to Northern Ireland and Britain in 2015.

Meanwhile, some 10,000 pigs are exported from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland each week, according to the ICMSA President.

The value of the UK market to Irish farming and food production has been enormous, Comer believes.

UK consumers have displayed a taste and affinity with Irish food since Ireland began exporting to the UK market centuries ago.

However, he also noted that Ireland also imported €3 billion worth of food from the UK and that British exporters would also struggle to find as dependable and steady a market as we had proved to be.

Comer described the number and complexity of the issues that will arise during the Brexit process as ‘dizzying’.

He identified transit across the UK to mainland Europe, all Ireland animal health, cross-border farm holdings, cross-border co-op processing, currency fluctuation and the possibility of tariffs or quotas as just some of the more prominent challenges that will arise.

The ICMSA President maintained that while Ireland must stay in the EU Camp in terms of negotiations, it was nothing less than a vital national interest that food trade between Ireland and Britain is preserved.

The Government must make it clear to both the Commission and other Member States that Ireland could not accept a situation whereby any wish to ‘punish’ the UK for Brexit translated into a deal that damaged the close relationships that exist between Irish food producers and their British customers, he said.