LETTER FROM BRUSSELS: Brexit's ‘most dramatic' impact on Ireland

February 17th, 2017 7:10 AM

By Southern Star Team

Rose O'Donovan meeting with Irish Agriculture Minister Michael Creed at the January Farm Council in Brussels.

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IRELAND is pushing for a Brexit outcome that is as close as possible to the status quo, Irish Agriculture Minister Michael Creed stated last month, saying such a “legitimate ask” was in the national interest. 

Speaking with The Southern Star’s Brussels correspondent in the margins of the Agriculture Council on January 23rd, Creed said the UK’s decision to leave the EU would have the ‘most dramatic impact on Ireland out of all European countries.’ 

‘Our ask is quite close to what the UK is looking for … that is to say frictionless, free trade deals,’ the Fine Gael politician said. ‘We are unapologetic about our demands … and we expect our voice to be heard,’ he added. 

In terms of the current level of business, just over 40% of Irish agricultural exports are destined for the UK market, while more than 50% of beef exports go to our nearest neighbour, he outlined. ‘Our situation is significantly different, because of geography and history, we are the most exposed … if there is a hard Brexit, we must find practical solutions,’ Creed stressed.  

The UK government released plans at the beginning of February outlining its demands for forthcoming two-year talks to quit the EU – expected to be formally launched at the European Council meeting on March 9th – including a bid to strike a bilateral free trade deal and retain partial access to the customs union. 

Commentators suggest that exiting the customs union will require the re-introduction of some form of border controls, which might have implications for land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. UK Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom will deliver the keynote address at the annual National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham later this month (February 21st and 22nd), where she is expected to unveil her vision on the future direction of domestic agricultural policy, once her country is out of the bloc. 

The beef sector is no longer prepared to be the ‘sweetener’ in international trade deals, Irish Agriculture Minister Michael Creed stated last month. Speaking with reporters in the margins of the Council meeting, Creed said he wanted to ‘draw a line in the sand’ and reiterate that key producing countries ‘are not going to trade off the interests of beef in the interest of any other sector.’

 Coming from the largest beef exporting countries in the Northern Hemisphere, the Fine Gael politician said it was ‘illogical that we dismantle a low carbon food system and trade that off against imports that come with a heavier carbon footprint. 

‘If at the end of the day there is some concession made in beef … it must not be in the opening gambit, as that is only going to go in one direction,’ the Macroom man quipped. Ireland, a small export economy, is ‘not against international trade,’ he announced, pointing to potential gains in dairy, pigmeat and beverages, ‘but there has to be an element of give and take … and deals must be consistent with EU policy in the area of climate change.’ 

Following the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, Creed said progress on EU-US bilateral trade talks have stalled ‘with no traction on that file in the foreseeable future.’ With this in mind, the Commission is focusing its attention on Asia particularly Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, with a trade deal with the affluent Japanese market likely to get over the line first, which would bring ‘significant gains’ for European producers. 

• Rose O’Donovan is editor of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS & a regular contributor to the video platform

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