The Chairman of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association has said that the local agri-food sector must join forces to influence government policy and future international trade agreements if the sector is to survive and thrive post-Brexit.
NIFDA Chair Declan Billington also said that Brexit will force the industry to adopt a truly global supply chain approach if it is to succeed in growing its market share both at home and abroad.
NIFDA Chair Declan Billington made the comments at NIFDA’s 20th Annual Dinner, which was sponsored by HSBC, Stena Line Freight and Interfrigo, and attended by around 200 representatives from the local food and drink sector, MLAs and government officials.
George Eustice MP, UK Minister of State at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, also made a speech at the event.
Mr Billington said: “We must find better ways to service the UK food market, reduce its reliance its imports, and develop new export markets. To date we have not taken advantage of opportunities to displace European imports into our home markets and to expand our global markets in the same way as other countries such as Denmark and Holland have done, particularly in the meat sector. A properly resourced food export marketing body is something we need now more urgently than ever to deliver on these opportunities.
“Brexit is going to happen and we must make it work for us – not against us. Key to this is the potential to inject fresh thinking into how we can develop our markets for our high quality food and drink offering.
“Major concerns for the industry include the threat of cheaper imports from countries which enjoy lower cost burdens in respect of social and environmental policy, the impact on the Irish border, continued access to the EU labour market, and the increased cost of importing ingredients. These concerns and threats will need to be carefully managed and must be considered in future trade negotiations.
“As the industry’s representative body we have commissioned a detailed report into the particular issues around Brexit for our industry. This report, delivered by NIFDA in conjunction with Deloitte, will be available within the next few weeks and will be a platform for influencing the Executive and the UK government in relation to Brexit negotiations.
“With the right blend of policy and an outward looking, export-focused Government I believe we can, at both a local and UK-wide level, deliver a more vibrant, efficient and profitable industry which will drive down our trade deficits through export growth and import substitution. Collaboration between industry and government has never been more crucial if we are to achieve this,” he concluded.
Allan Wilkinson, Head of Food and Agriculture UK, HSBC, said: “HSBC is pleased to sponsor the NIFDA Annual Dinner for the second year running as we recognise the importance of the strong vibrant food chain to the Northern Irish economy. Our commitment to our customers across all facets of the food chain is undiminished and we will continue to support them to invest and grow, deal with any challenges that may arise and take full advantage of any opportunities.
“The food industry has a growing importance both at home and abroad, and HSBC is in a good place to assist ambitious businesses to grow. We look forward to continuing our work with NIFDA on a number of fronts to help the industry as a whole here in Northern Ireland.”