ANALYSIS - Uncertainty and a sense of disbelief that the UK actually voted in favour of leaving the European Union were recurring themes among the panel of speakers at an event named 'The Impact of Brexit on Irish Agriculture', recently hosted by the Muskerry Macra Na Feirme young farmers’ group in County Cork, writes Eoin McCarthy.
"None of us expected this, certainly not even the bookies had predicted that it was any way likely the UK was going to decide in their referendum to exit the EU,” said Joe Burke, from Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board), highlighting the importance of the UK market to the Irish agri-food sector.
"Ireland exports 11 billion of food every year and just over 40 per cent of that value goes to UK. Within the livestock sector 54 per cent of our beef exports went to the UK at just over 270,000 tonnes - we are hugely reliant on it. It’s of massive importance,” he said.
Mr Burke outlined how Brexit has caused a reduction in Irish cattle prices, due to the impact of the vote on exchange rates, which are important for producers selling beef to the UK market.
Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, Bord Bia remains optimistic, because British beef production may decline after Brexit if financial support is lower, and because Irish beef is seen as an equivalent in British outlets to their own domestic beef.
Mr Burke added: "I would be quite optimistic in this regard because we have the type of profile of product that the customers are looking for. British consumers are positively disposed to Irish beef, as they are about most of our products."
Donal Whelton of AIB (Allied Irish Banks) gave an insight into the financial implications of the vote. He said that payments to Irish farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy in the EU will remain unchanged at least until two years after the UK evokes Article 50, the legal clause that triggers the country's exit.
Mr Whelton also remained positive: “Ireland has a long trading history with the UK, we have a similar and shared culture with the UK and I think we are recognised as a consistent supplier of a quality product in the UK market and hopefully that should stand us to some stead.”
Agriculture ministry seeks new markets
Minister of Agriculture Michael Creed described the uncertainty caused by Brexit, particularly the fact that nobody knows when the UK plans to trigger Article 50.
“On a political stage we will have lost a significant political ally in the EU,” Mr Creed said.
Mr Creed also highlighted that following the Brexit result, Ireland realised how over-dependant the Irish agri-food sector is on the UK market, and his department is now seeking new markets elsewhere.
“One of the critical things is that 43 per cent of our exports are going to the UK... that is a lot of eggs in one basket and obviously on of the things that my department is continuously doing is looking for new market opportunities.”
Mr Creed said this strategy has seen some success, and are particularly targeting South East Asia as an emerging market where Ireland can make gains.
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