IFA President Joe Healy spoke on the landscape for Budget 2018 and beyond at the National Economic Dialogue today. Read his intervention.
As has been recognised in the past year, Irish farming and the agri-food sector is the most exposed sector to a negative Brexit outcome.
As the negotiations get underway, I want to reemphasise how important it is that the Government focus is on economic and trade issues.
While political issues relating are hugely important, it is also critical that the future trading arrangements between the EU and UK remain a top priority for the Irish Government.
In the short-term, investment uncertainty and pressure on competitiveness, due to the weakness of sterling, are the key challenges arising from Brexit.
IFA believes that the Government should be making a strong case at EU level for greater flexibility and an increase in State Aid limits.
At the same time, farming remains a low income sector, as shown by the recent Teagasc income figures, with income volatility an ongoing challenge to farm viability.
In this environment, Budget 2018 provides an opportunity for the Government to provide direct and positive support to farming enterprises.
- Provision of low-cost finance through the SBCI. This would build upon the success of the agri-cashflow loan sought by IFA in 2016 and introduced by the Government as part of last year’s Budget measures.
- Increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, bringing it into line with the PAYE credit. This would have the greatest impact on lower income self-employed workers.
- Funding cutbacks applied to the scheme for the Areas of Natural Constraints during the downturn must be reversed. This will strengthen the scheme in its target of maintaining farming and economic activity, particularly in marginal areas.
- Government support is required to deliver the significant economic, environmental and social benefits from farm level measures in renewable energy and climate mitigation.
Overall, Budget 2018 must provide sufficient funding to ensure full implementation and timely payments of the various schemes under the Rural Development Programme.
Finally, increased resources for market access and promotion for relevant bodies, including the Department of Agriculture and Bord Bia are required.