Farmers in the EU are set to see prices for their produce plummet if the UK pursues a cheap food policy after Brexit.
In 2014, agri-food imports to the UK from the rest of the EU were worth £38.5 billion, with the main exporters being the Netherlands (12 per cent), the Irish Republic (10 per cent) and France (10 per cent).
Fears have been growing on the continent about these exports being displaced on to the EU market after Brexit if the UK rushes to sign a host of new trade deals with countries from all over the world.
Although Defra Secretary Michael Gove has repeatedly said UK standards will not be diluted in the pursuit of trade deals, his cabinet colleagues – in particular International Trade Secretary Liam Fox – have appeared to suggest otherwise.
A number of European farming groups have expressed their concerns to the EU Commission about the impact future UK policy could have on food prices inside the bloc.
Speaking at NFU Cymru’s annual conference in Llandrindod Wells, Irish Farmers’ Association president Joe Healy said: “Any increase in low-cost imports into the UK would undermine the value of the market and have a devastating effect on the Irish agri-food sector.
“The potential displacement of Irish food exports to the UK market would in turn destabilise the EU’s market balance.
“We have found talking to our European counterparts, we saw the displacement of produce caused by the Russian ban [on EU food imports].
“If this was multiplied by nine or ten times over, then you are closer to the food exports of £40 billion going into the UK.
“For this to be displaced back on to the EU market would have a hugely negative effect on European prices.”
Mr Healy also raised concerns about the impact new trade deals could have on the Irish border.
“Cross-border trade in agricultural produce encompasses crucial issues such as food safety and animal health”, he said.
“If the UK insists on pursuing its own free trade agreements, two divergent regimes would have to operate on our island and it is impossible to see how border checks could be avoided should this happen.
“If the UK really wants to minimise the need for border checks, they will have to compromise on their future trade ambitions with third countries in the area of agriculture and food.”