A good Brexit deal was as important for the Republic of Ireland as it was for the UK, Joe Healy, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association has said.
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 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 more than half of that [270,000 out of 500,000 tonnes], as well as 21 per cent of our dairy exports.”
Figures from 2017 showed the UK imported 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 of products to the UK, and the UK sends £4.1 billion to the country.
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 1,000t of beef to China might sound good, Ireland sends the UK the equivalent of 1,000t of beef every working day.
“I see no positives for Irish agriculture with Britain’s planned exit from the EU, and I have 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.
Domestic market means it is not all about exports
A POST-Brexit British farming industry should aim to serve its domestic market, believed John Giles, of international agri-food consultancy Promar International.
Britain accounted for just 1 per cent of global agricultural production which, in Mr Giles’ estimation, makes it a niche producer, while its 65 million population made it a niche market, albeit an affluent one.
He said: “Seeking exports is fine, but start by concentrating on your home market.”
Ironically, Mr Giles has spent much of his career developing export markets in some 60 countries.
“The UK is not going to take the market by storm,” he added. “We need to find those niche opportunities.
“We do not always recognise our own strengths and are good at doing ourselves down and being modest.”
While export opportunities were worth chasing, he warned many were in countries less stable than Europe and could be challenging. Britain’s food market would still be heavily influenced by Europe, with about half our biggest food companies having European ownership.