A good Brexit deal is as important for the Republic of Ireland as it is for the United Kingdom, Joe Healy, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association has said, writes Jonathan Wheeler.
Irish farming has long been heavily dependent on exports – with markets in 180 countries – but is heavily dependent on the UK, which accounts for 38 per cent of its trade.
The country would be seriously affected by any restriction on that trade, with the impact being felt most in rural communities, he told the Nottingham Farming Conference, held at Nottingham University’s agricultural school.
“Agriculture in Ireland is exposed to Brexit and to a bad outcome. Ninety per cent of our beef and dairy produce is exported, and the UK takes over half of that (270,000 tonnes out of 500,000 tonnes), as well as 21 per cent of our dairy exports."
Figures from 2017 also show that the UK imports 99 per cent of the country’s mushroom production, as well as 71 per cent of forestry products and 62 per cent of consumer foods.
“We have a strong reliance on exports to the UK; at times we have been accused of being overly reliant on you”, added Mr Healy.
But the UK already accounted for a significant portion of the country’s food exports before it joined the EU in 1973.
The current balance of trade means Ireland sends £5.2 billion worth of products to the UK, and the UK sends £4.1 billion to the country.
He said:“It will be a sad day for Ireland and Europe when the UK leaves the EU – and only time will tell what sort of day that will be for the UK."
And while politicians may eulogise about the opportunities to strike trade deals around the world, he doubted they could replicate the scale or value of the existing deals.
While a deal to send 1,000 tonnes of beef to China might sound good, Ireland sends the UK the equivalent of 1,000 tonnes of beef every working day.
“I see no positives for Irish agriculture with Britain’s planned exit from the EU – and I haven not heard a lot of positives for British agriculture either," Mr Healy said.
He suggested the UK should concentrate on developing markets with similar costs of production and standards, rather than against countries with lower costs and standards.
“I hope we get a Brexit that enables Irish, UK and EU farmers to continue working together and continue to be good allies. Let us look forward with a sense of optimism, and hopefully the politicians will not obstruct that."