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Any tariff increases would 'decimate' Ireland's food and drink imports to the UK - Brexit committee report

Dublin Port expects the number of freight units from outside the EU to rise from 200,000 to 1 million after Brexit.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee and Fine Gael spokesman on EU Affairs Senator Neale Richmond.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney, European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee and Fine Gael spokesman on EU Affairs Senator Neale Richmond.
Image: Cate McCurry

ANY ADDITIONAL TARIFFS would “decimate” food and drink imports to the UK, and “significant losses” had been felt already by some Irish businesses and producers, are among the warnings given to the Seanad Brexit committee.  

The Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union has released a progress report today, ahead of being dissolved on 31 December. 

The report summarises the evidence it has heard since the 2017 general election, from various industries including representatives of the food and drinks industry, agriculture, the economy, politics, and fuel and energy.

Among the most significant bits of information contained in the report, were the impact a no-deal Brexit could have on the food industry in Ireland.

Paul Kelly, Director of FDI, expressed the view that “any introduction of tariffs would decimate much of Ireland’s food and drink imports to the UK”.

He highlighted the industry’s reliance on the UK market, with 71% of beer exports, 85% of cider exports and 66% of prepared consumer foods exports going to the UK.

Joe Healy, President of the Irish Farmers’ Association said that 37% of Ireland’s food and drinks exports and 50% of beef exports went to the UK, making Irish agriculture “uniquely exposed”.

He reported that Brexit uncertainty and the devaluation of sterling had already had a major impact on Irish agriculture, particularly the beef sector, and expressed concern that any disruption to the UK market through the imposition of tariff barriers, border checks, certification requirements or other regulatory changes, or new entrants to the UK market, would seriously undermine Irish exports.

Victor Chestnutt, Deputy President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, told the committee that around 85% of Northern Irish produce was sold to British market, so free and frictionless trade with Great Britain was a priority.

He also that Brexit had already had an impact on farmers in Northern Ireland, with overall losses of approximately £27 million up to September 2019.

Pat McCormack, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, discussed the significant financial losses already experienced by agriculture producers as a result of Brexit uncertainty, particularly in the beef sector. 

He said that 30% of Irish dairy exports go to the UK and 50% of Irish cheese was exported to the UK in 2018. 

A visit to Dublin Port by four members of the Committee was also included in the report. It  was informed by the Chief Executive, Eamonn O’Reilly, that €30 million had been spent on border controls since December 2017.

Of the 1.6m units of freight (trailers and containers) that move through Dublin Port currently, 200,000 were from/to destinations outside the EU and were already subject to border controls. But after Brexit, the number of freight units from outside the EU would rise from 200,000 to 1 million.

Michael Mahon, EirGrid’s Director of Grid Development and Interconnection, outlined the details of the Celtic Interconnector project, which would link the electrical grids of Ireland and France at points in Cork and Brittany.

He stated that the Interconnector would increase competition in the energy market and provide Ireland’s only energy connection to an EU Member State after Brexit. The project was approved for grant funding of €530 million by the European Commission, 65% of which would be allocated to Ireland.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of SFI and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, explained that Ireland was set to become a net contributor to the Horizon 2020 programme for the first time.

He provided the breakdown of Ireland’s top five research EU research collaboration partners as of July 2019 – Germany (10.64%), Spain (10.3%), UK (10.01%), France (9.48%), Italy (8.75%), the Netherlands (5.4%). If the UK withdraws from Horizon, 10% of Ireland’s research projects would need to find other collaboration partners.

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