The post-Brexit relationship between farmers in Northern Ireland who send their produce across the border for processing and the southern processors is a key concern for the industry, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said.
On the eve of Article 50 being triggered by the UK government, the UFU said that “access to labour” was also a potential problem if the free movement of people is curtailed.
UFU dairy chairman William Irvine said Northern Ireland’s “unique situation and complexities” should be recognised by both the UK and the EU.
Speaking after travelling to Brussels to meet with senior dairy officials in the European Commission, Mr Irvine said any tariffs imposed on agriculture products entering the EU would have a significant impact on the dairy sector.
“A large number of dairy farmers here are members of co-ops in the south. Clearly, there are strong links between farmers here and processors south of the border, and indeed vice versa. This applies to other sectors as well as dairy, and we were encouraged that the will seems to exist in Brussels for a soft border,” he said.
“Being able to trade with the EU tariff free is crucial. There are also non-tariff barriers to consider as well. New UK trade deals with other countries, like the US or New Zealand, must not use agriculture as a bargaining chip,” Mr Irvine added.
Meanwhile, Robin Swann of the Ulster Unionists also said the UK’s withdrawal from the EU “must concentrate the minds” of all those who wish to see a sustainable future for agriculture in the Province.
The North Antrim MLA said: “There are few other sectors of the local economy that face to be affected by Brexit as much as agriculture. Suitable trade arrangements, such as the continued viability of cross-border trade, are absolutely essential for the survival of the industry, as is ongoing direct financial support.”
Mr Swann added: “Whilst I very much welcomed the commitment from Philip Hammond that the Treasury will make up the shortfall in EU funding to farmers up to 2020 – it was still nothing more than a temporary stop-gap. What our farmers urgently need is clarity and certainty for future support, and right now there is nothing but a total policy vacuum.”