By using this website, you consent to our use of cookies. For more information on cookies see our privacy policy page.

Text Size: a a
HomeA-Z IndexSubscribe/RSS Contact Us Twitter logo small white bird

Ministers' Information Centre

Contact Us

Address by Minister Michael Creed T.D. at the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Agri-Food Seminar

05 September 2018
The Intercontinental Hotel Ballsbridge

Opening remarks

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here with you this morning at this timely Brexit Seminar organised by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.  I thank your President Eoin O’Neill and your Agri-Food Committee Chair,  Maree Gallagher for the kind invitation.

Before addressing the specific issue of Brexit and its impact on the Irish agri food sector, I want to acknowledge the work of the Chamber.  Since its foundation in 2011, it has been to the forefront in representing those with business interests in the UK and Ireland, with the aim of protecting and growing trade among all businesses on these islands.

It was certainly opportune, therefore, that such a collaborative body was in place when the UK voted to exit the EU in June 2016.  Since then, the Chamber has been to the forefront in providing credible analysis of the potential impact of Brexit on various sectors, as well as making timely media and policy interventions on issues of concern for business.  I commend them for their work in this area.

As you will have seen, the theme for today’s seminar is ‘The UK-Ireland Agri-Food sector: A Shared History, A Shared Future’.  I thank the Chamber for placing such a strong focus on the agri food sector and bringing together such an impressive gathering of stakeholders and interested attendees.

I have said on many occasions that very few policy, business or financial decisions will be made over the coming months and year, that will not be affected by Brexit in some way, either directly or indirectly. For obvious reasons, my concerns revolve around the agri- food and fisheries sectors, where it is universally accepted that there will be significant impacts if a ‘no deal’ Brexit ensues.  Many research studies, including those of your Chamber and the most recent in depth Copenhagen Economics study confirm this.

It is precisely because we have a shared history in these islands, that Brexit has the potential to have such a dramatic impact on agri food in both jurisdictions.  Our close ties are based on a common language, similarity in taste, high levels of confidence in each other’s processes and produce and ease of access to each other’s markets.

This shared history means that the UK is Ireland’s largest export destination for agri food products, with exports valued at approximately €5.2 billion in 2017, while Ireland is the UK’s largest export destination, with €4.1 billion worth of food and drink finding its way from, the UK in 2017.  

I need hardly say that at present, this trade takes place in the most benign trading environment on Earth, within a Customs Union and Single Market that provides for tariff and friction free trade in consumer goods and raw materials in both directions, and onward trade into the European Union for a whole range of foods containing ingredients from either or both jurisdictions.

The Common Rulebook that is part of the framework supporting trade within the single market, and which has been developed by member states, working together, also provides a platform for trade with third countries.

Ireland exports agri food products to more than 180 countries worldwide. Our vision for the sector involved involves increasing the value of those exports to €19 billion by 2025.

According to the FAO, global demand for food is set to increase by 60% by 2050. The Irish agri food sector wants to be part of that dynamic.  I have been working hard, with the industry, to increase its global footprint across the world. Already this year I have led trade missions to the US, Canada and China, and my department is planning for further such missions in the Autumn. 

With or without Brexit, market diversification remains a critical part of our strategy for agriculture and food. In fact, Ireland is among the most open economies in the world, with a very high dependence on international trade for its economic prosperity. As a sovereign nation, we believe that for us, membership of the European Union, with a single market of more than 400 million of the most affluent consumers in the world, and access to more than 60 trading arrangements with third countries, provides the very best platform for delivering on Ireland’s trade ambitions.   

And I note that this week the UK Department of International Trade published figures illustrating that the value of UK exports to the rest of the world has exceeded that of exports to the EU for the last 9 years. The UK is also a member of the European Union.

What then, of Ireland’s shared future with the United Kingdom? With supply chains that are closely entwined, with our geographical proximity, and the very significant trading volumes, it seems clear that the best interests of the agri food sectors in both countries lie in a trading arrangement post Brexit that is as close as possible to that prevailing currently.

That is what Ireland wants from this negotiation and it is also what the EU wants. So be clear about this. Ireland is absolutely committed to maintaining and developing the very closest relationships with commercial, official and political partners in the UK.

It also seems clear however, that the trading relationship cannot be the same outside of the Single Market and the Customs Union. These are not arbitrary concepts, but rather are creatures of treaty and law, based on precepts, rights and obligations that all member states have signed up to. 

It seems inevitable therefore, that any final arrangement outside of these structures will involve friction and additional cost along the supply chain.

In any discussion on the future trading relationship with the UK, we will, of course, be working to keep these to a minimum.

Indeed M. Barnier has referred to “an unprecedented partnership with the United Kingdom”, following the most recent discussions with Secretary of State Raab.   

This also seems to be what the United Kingdom wants for itself, but of course the devil will be in the detail of what will be a difficult and complex negotiation. 

Where are we with the negotiations?

Of course, before we can agree terms for a future relationship, we must agree the conditions for withdrawal, including the text necessary to  give legal expression  to  last December’s agreement that there would be no border on this island and that the Good Friday Agreement would be protected.  

On the backstop, our position remains clear.  While our preference is for an overall EU-UK relationship that would resolve all issues, it remains essential that a backstop is agreed which provides certainty that a hard border will be avoided in any circumstances. It therefore must be in place unless and until another solutions are found.

Many of us, as we return from our various summer breaks, were hoping that the ‘mood music’ around Brexit would start to become a little more positive towards achieving a jointly agreed Withdrawal Agreement.

There were some positive signals from last week’s meeting between Michel Barnier and Dominic Raab, but of course the signals were a bit mixed, as you might expect in a negotiation reaching a critical point.

I am concerned of course, at the re-emergence of a narrative in some media outlets about a no deal Brexit. We all need to be clear about one thing!  A no deal is the worst possible deal for the agri food sector in the UK, and in Ireland. It would almost certainly result in the imposition of significant tariffs on food exports in both directions, in addition to non tariff barriers such as customs and health inspection formalities. This would be a damaging combination of additional cost that would impact on the competitiveness of food businesses in both jurisdictions.  

Nonetheless and despite the somewhat mixed signals, I am encouraged by some of the developments over the last week.  The fact that formal negotiations between the EU and UK have recently resumed in Brussels and that both sets of negotiators are committed to intensifying talks from now until October, has to be welcomed. I am confident that progress on a withdrawal agreement can be made, but the time available is not unlimited.

Preparedness

You may be aware that the UK has recently issued a number of notices that provide information on the course of action they will take in the situation that a deal is not reached through the negotiations. This follows on from a similar exercise from the EU’s Preparedness Unit last April.

Ireland’s own contingency planning is well advanced, and was the subject of a Government decision in July. While the need for such measures will depend on the outcome of the negotiations, the Government has asked departments to make the necessary preparations for customs formalities and import control and export certification requirements that may be required following a transition period My department is working with Customs and other authorities to ensure that they are prepared to fulfil their legal obligations as efficiently as possible in any scenario.

Closing

Following last week’s meeting with Michel Barnier, Secretary of State Raab said that he remained ” stubbornly optimistic we can secure a good deal, and look forward to continuing our work next week”.

I agree with the Secretary of State. With this in mind, let me assure you that the contribution of my Department and of the Irish Government to the negotiations will be constructive.  I think you would all join with me in wishing the negotiators well as we enter this critical phase.

In the meantime, I want to thank you for the invitation to speak here today. The British Irish Chamber is a practical manifestation of a really vital relationship, between neighbours and friends. That relationship will endure regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. You represent the businesses that create the employment and wealth that generates revenues that drive the delivery of public services in our economies. It’s critically important that you make your voice is heard in this debate.

I can assure you that from an Irish perspective, we in Government will continue engage closely with you and to listen to your concerns.

Thank you, and have a productive day.

Brexit and International Trade Division

30 August 2018.