Joe Healy’s Address to IFA Brexit Event

Read the full speech by IFA President Joe Healy at the IFA Brexit Event

Commissioner Hogan, thank you for giving us a clearer picture of the current EU position in the Brexit negotiations.

We are fortunate to have an Irish Commissioner in the agriculture portfolio facing into these critical negotiations.

Commissioner, I know your job is to represent Europe’s farmers across all 27 Member States.

But I want you to know that Irish farmers – not only in this room, but right across the country – are depending on you to protect their interests at this critical time.

You and your colleagues cannot allow our livelihoods to be destroyed as a result of Brexit.

How can you safeguard us? Three things are needed.

  1.  The closest possible trading relationship between the EU and the UK;
  2. The value of the UK market must be maintained; and
  3. A fully-funded CAP must be secured.

And why is this so important? Farming and agri-food is the backbone of the Irish economy.

Last year, our food and drink exports topped €11bn.

Farming and food generates economic activity in every parish, village and town across Ireland, supporting 300,000 jobs directly and indirectly.

That’s what’s at stake in the Brexit negotiations.

That’s why farmers from all sectors and all parts of Ireland have come here today.

To stand up and challenge our political leaders, in Dublin and Brussels, to fight for our livelihoods.

Why Brexit matters for agriculture

The implications of Brexit for Ireland are clear – and they are stark.

Ireland is the most exposed EU Member State, and the stakes are highest in our farming and food sector.

40%, or €4bn of our exports go to the UK each year – that’s 50% of our beef, 1/3 of our dairy, over half of our pigmeat exports, and more than 90% of all Irish mushroom exports.

The border creates serious challenges.

Every year, thousands of animals and huge volumes of agricultural produce cross the border to Northern Ireland for further finishing or processing, as part of a highly integrated supply chain.

These trading links have built up over many years and are critically important for farmers and processors on both sides of the border.

Brexit presents a real risk of a ‘hard’ border, with customs checks and other controls.

This would seriously disrupt trade and have a severe impact on the daily lives and businesses of farmers, particularly those in Border Counties.

We cannot allow that to happen.

Let’s look at the CAP

Defending the European model of farming is a cornerstone of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The EU applies tariffs on imports from non-EU countries to protect the market for European farmers.

A cheap food policy in the UK would fatally undermine Irish and EU exports and hit farmer prices.

We cannot allow that to happen.

The UK is a net contributor to the CAP budget.

Farmers across all sectors, particularly in the drystock sectors, are hugely dependent on direct payments.

Commissioner, I want to tell you plainly here.

Irish farmers don’t want to hear any talk of CAP cuts.

Specific threats

I want to highlight some of the specific issues for our main sectors.

For the beef sector, the threat from Brexit is frightening.

The UK is the market for 50% or 270,000 tonnes of Irish beef exports.

IFA strongly supports efforts to secure new markets for Irish beef.

However, the reality is that any damage to our position on the UK market would see significant displacement of Irish beef onto EU markets, such as France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.

This would destabilise the EU beef market, undermining price returns to farmers not just in Ireland but across Europe.

In the dairy sector, one third of our exports go to the UK.

It’s our main market for cheddar. There is no alternative.

A loss of access to the UK market would destabilise the overall dairy sector here.

Brexit also presents a particular threat for milk processors depending on an all-Ireland milk pool.

The same goes for the pigmeat and poultry sectors, where large volumes of product are moving across the border for processing.

In the sheep sector, the key issue is the future destination of large volumes of New Zealand lamb imports.

Across virtually every sector in agriculture, from beef, dairy and lamb, to mushrooms and forestry, there is a real threat from
• reduced access to the UK market through tariff barriers
• a loss in the value of the UK market through increased low cost imports and
• the potential reduction in the CAP budget post Brexit

The ESRI has estimated that WTO tariff rates would virtually wipe out agri-food trade to the UK, with losses of over €2b for our meat and dairy exports.

At farm level, Teagasc looked at the impact a ‘hard’ Brexit would have on farm incomes, in a scenario where there is a 10% reduction in the CAP budget and lower UK food prices.

Farming would be devastated, with average incomes falling by 26%. Cattle farm incomes would be worst hit, dropping by a massive 37%.

That would devastate suckler beef production in Ireland.

We’re talking about the livelihoods of the 100,000 farmers involved in livestock and beef, and thousands of jobs in beef processing and related sectors.

IFA Priorities
Since the UK vote, IFA has campaigned to highlight the significant threats posed to Irish farming from Brexit.

We have produced a comprehensive policy document which analyses what is at stake and sets out the solutions that are required.

We have engaged with politicians here and in Brussels.

We met the EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier. He had our document. He has read it and he knows our issues.

We met the Taoiseach Enda Kenny & Ministers Creed and Flanagan. I have also met the UK ambassador to Ireland Robin Barnett and other EU Government representatives.

IFA is actively working with European farming organisations to highlight the damage a hard Brexit could do to Europe’s €45bn worth of food exports to the UK.

We are also in close contact with our colleagues in the UFU and NFU, who share many of the same concerns about the impact of Brexit.

I want to welcome Martin Merrild, President of COPA, the European Farmers’ Union, and UFU President, Barclay Bell, both of whom will speak later today.

IFA is determined that farming and food is top of the Brexit agenda, not only in Ireland, but at EU level. For the simple reason that farming supports 44 million jobs across the EU.

Commissioner, Europe’s strategic objective in these negotiations must be to maximise the future value of the EU farming and food sector.

IFA is very clear on what this means.

Number one: it means maintaining the closest possible trading relationship between the UK and EU, while preserving the value of the UK market.

The UK is proposing “a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement … [that] covers sectors crucial to our linked economies”. Such an agreement must be in both sides’ interests.

In the agri-food sector, tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU alone does not go far enough.

The value of our exports cannot be undermined by an increase in low cost food imports into the UK market or by imports that do not meet the high food safety, animal welfare, health and environmental standards that are required of EU producers.

Any Free Trade Agreement must include the maintenance of European standards and the UK’s acceptance of the European Common External Tariff to protect the market against low cost imports.

I want to put it very plainly; cheaply-produced beef from Brazil and other Mercosur countries cannot be allowed onto British supermarket shelves alongside our high-quality beef.

Our second requirement is a Strong CAP budget following the UK’s departure

Commissioner, Irish farmers are already struggling with the erosion of the Basic Payment.

Many farmers in this room are up in arms over the cuts in their payments introduced in the Ciolos reform.

We need an increase in the CAP budget in the next reform.

And Commissioner, if the Brexit negotiations go wrong for Irish agriculture, farmers must be compensated directly for the damage caused

Let me deal with some other issues

Farmers, processors and the wider agri-food sector have invested a lot in building market share in the UK. We cannot afford to lose it.

We have been struggling to cope with the devaluation of Sterling over the past year. In the event of any further significant drop, farmers and the food sector will require direct support through CAP market supports, and flexibility on State Aid rules.

We also want increased resources for market access and promotion for relevant bodies, including the Department of Agriculture and Bord Bia.

Finally, to minimise uncertainty during the negotiation process, discussions on the future EU-UK framework must commence early in the withdrawal discussions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Brexit is the greatest threat to Irish farming in our lifetimes.

The livelihoods of thousands of farm families and the future of the agriculture and food industry are at stake in these negotiations.

Today, I have set out the imperatives for Irish farmers and the agri-food sector in the Brexit negotiations.

There is a huge responsibility on both EU and UK politicians to get this right.

Minister Creed and the Irish Government must ensure that farming and agri-food issues, are top of the EU’s Brexit agenda.

Commissioner, the ball is about to be thrown in on the Brexit negotiations. And to put it plainly, this is senior hurling.

This is about Europe showing its commitment to Irish farming.

It’s about jobs.

It’s about rural communities.

It’s about farm families

Commissioner, Ireland’s farmers expect you to deliver.


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