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Government must defend our farmers interests

July 4th, 2016 8:15 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Dan McSweeney, chief executive of the Carbery Group.

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THE negative Brexit vote has raised a set of challenges for Ireland, but more particularly for the Irish agri sector. 

With the UK accounting for over 50% of beef exports and over 30% of dairy exports, the chief executive of the Carbery Group, Dan MacSweeney, stressed the important role that the Irish government will have to play if it is to adequately defend the interests of farmers during the Brexit negotiations over the next two years.

Although the weakening of sterling is an issue that the government has very little control over, Mr MacSweeney maintained that the government ‘must convince the EU Commission that it is in the interests of Europe as a whole to facilitate the UK in the free, single market because it would be very punitive on Ireland if we were to go back to an era of trade restrictions and tariffs.’ 

Mr MacSweeney said he, personally, believes that Ireland and the UK will not return to trade restrictions, but stressed: ‘It is the Government’s job to ensure it doesn’t happen.’ 

He said he believes that many of the implications of the Brexit result are ‘very negative,’ that and others will ‘evolve over time,’ but he stressed the importance of ‘re-affirming the many positive fundamentals that already exist in the Irish-UK economic relationship.’

Statistics that have been in the public domain since the Brexit vote on Thursday, June 23rd show that approximately 400,000 people, born in the Republic of Ireland, now live in the UK; and almost 230,000, people, born in the UK, are now resident in Ireland, which is a real indication of the ties that exists between the two countries.

On a commercial level, the two-way trade between the Republic of Ireland and the UK stands at over €1bn per week. The UK is Ireland’s largest export market. In fact, the UK ranks as Ireland’s number one market for services exports and number two for goods exports. 

The Irish Exporters Association has quantified this by estimating goods and services exports to the UK at €30bn in 2014 – a figure that accounts for 17% of total Irish exports. 

Ireland and the UK are also each other’s single biggest export markets for food and drink. Bord Bia has confirmed this by estimating that the UK accounts for over 50% of Ireland’s beef exports, and almost one third of the dairy exports, as well as 70% of Irish ingredients and prepared food.

Following an initial 10% drop in sterling since the result of the referendum was announced last Thursday, businesses exporting to the UK are already experiencing the negative impact of the Brexit vote, but there are real fears that sterling could drop by a further 10 to 15%.

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