Irish beef industry sees a catastrophe in no-deal Brexit

By Diana Yordanova

- Last updated on GMT

Irish beef exports to the UK would be "economically unsustainable" in a no-deal Brexit
Irish beef exports to the UK would be "economically unsustainable" in a no-deal Brexit
As the British House of Commons prepares to vote on the European Union (EU) withdrawal agreement negotiated by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, the Irish beef sector has been warning that a no-deal Brexit would cause chaos and dramatically undermine Ireland’s beef exports.

Producers told GlobalMeatNews​ that the impossibility of forecasting how and when Britain might exit the EU has made them feel insecure about their businesses. “Ireland exports 90% of its beef and half of all beef exports go to the UK market. A no-deal Brexit would lead to WTO ​[World Trade Organization] tariffs and probably a very negative movement in exchange rates, so that Irish beef exports to the UK would suddenly be economically unsustainable,”​ Eddie Punch, general secretary of the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) told GlobalMeatNews​.

Punch further explained that there was insufficient time to find new international markets at viable prices to replace Ireland’s UK trade and added: “The only solution to avoiding a catastrophe in the short term is to get agreement on some form of emergency intervention buying.”

Similarly, earlier this month, the Irish minister of agriculture, food and the marine Michael Creed told British media that he would seek hundreds of millions of euros in aid from the EU if an orderly withdrawal agreement were not approved.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has warned that Irish beef prices have already been falling – now at €0.25 cents/kg below the same period last year. “Minister Creed needs to put on the green jersey and tog out, right now, for Irish farmers who are facing a potential Armageddon from Brexit,”​ insisted association president Joe Healy. He added that, besides price support, the Irish Government should urge the EU that “for every 5c/kg change in the cattle price, the EU Commission makes provision for €20 per head compensation on every beef animal slaughtered”​.

Putting in place a trigger price that would put a floor under rates, however, would still be a temporary fix, he said.

For the ICSA’s Punch, taking the right long-term decision would require a free trade agreement, which would include a very substantial quota to re-enable Irish beef exports to be sent back to the UK. In 2018, Irish beef production amounted to 633,000 tonnes and the value of country’s beef exports was €2.5 billion, the general secretary pointed out.

“There seems to be a complete lack of awareness of the implications for trade and the impact of a default switch to WTO. We would hope that either the May package is agreed or that Article 50 is extended, so that immediate chaos is avoided,”​ Punch concluded.

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