AS NFU Scotland bosses travelled to Belfast to hammer home the importance of maintaining free UK-Irish trade in livestock and red meat post-Brexit, the president of a French farming union was busy calling for the re-introduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
All previous discussion of the Irish border issue has been geared towards finding a solution to the problem, with Prime Minister Theresa May and EU chief negotiator Michael Barnier singling Ireland out as a priority, but Christophe Hillairet, who has been president of the Chamber of Agriculture of Ile de France for more than 10 years, made it clear French farmers were expecting a hard border to prevent cheap food produced in the Commonwealth from entering the EU.
In an interview with Agra Europe, Monsieur Hillairet said: “Ireland is a big problem, but for the French farmer, we will need to have a hard border between the North and the Republic, as otherwise we will have a lot of products which will cross from north to south.
“That would be very dangerous for our producers.”
NFU Scotland has expressed similar concerns about farmers being undercut by cheap produce post-Brexit, with livestock policy manager John Armour calling for the integrity of the current market to be ‘protected’ after the meeting in Belfast with the Irish Farmers’ Association.
“In securing the future of established trade links, politicians must ensure the UK does not enter into free trade agreements with third countries which produce beef and lamb to low standards”, he added.
Ulster Farmers’ Union’s president Barclay Bell said Mr Hillairet’s remarks showed there were ‘strong opinions’ when it came to Brexit, but insisted ‘calm heads must prevail.’
“A hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will not serve anyone well," he added.
NFU Scotland’s livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam agreed.
He added: “Nearly 40 per cent of the UK’s beef exports go to the Republic of Ireland, while 50 per cent of Irish beef exports are marketed in the UK.
“In terms of sheep, the fact that over 40 per cent of Northern Ireland’s lambs are processed in the Republic of Ireland and 90 per cent of the UK’s lamb exports are destined for the European market show there is a lot hanging on achieving a progressive free trade agreement.”
Mr Bell said the UFU was ‘thinking creatively’ about how to minimise trade disruption.