Northern Ireland’s farming and food industry must quickly adopt a united front in terms of setting its priorities for the upcoming Brexit negotiation, according to Alliance MLA David Ford.
Speaking at a joint meeting of the UFU’s South Antrim, Ballyclare and Larne groups, held on Monday evening, he added that the UK would have one representative at the Brexit negotiating table. Ford is a member of the DAERA committee at Stormont.
“The person that we need to focus-in on is David Davies, the minister responsible for negotiating the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU,” said Ford.
“And he must know exactly the policies that best meet the needs of farming in Northern Ireland prior to him sitting down to talk with representatives of the 27 countries remaining within the EU. So the clock is already ticking, where this matter is concerned.”
Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan also attended the meeting. He said that Northern Ireland must secure special status in the context of the Brexit negotiations.
“I believe that local farmers must have access to a form of guaranteed payments policy post Brexit. And this must be funded by the UK government. We also need to ensure that the free movement of goods and people within the island of Ireland is guaranteed into the future.”
Ford agreed: “Fundamentally, we need to see a final deal that delivers the softest Brexit possible. I cannot see how it would be possible to verify the cross border movement of every lorry and shipment of goods.”
Agri Food Strategy Board Chairman Tony O’Neill also spoke at the event. He confirmed that the public good element of the production practises followed by livestock farmers in Northern Ireland, on the back of current EU welfare and environmental regulations, worked at £2/kilo – from a beef perspective.
“This is the size of the tariff which the UK must maintain when it comes to negotiating trade agreements with other countries post-Brexit.
“But I am deeply concerned that, as the years go by, the UK’s overarching policy of wanting cheap food would come to the fore in the context of future trade deals. And this could be a bad news story for farming and food in Northern Ireland.”
O’Neill suggested that the UK will initially strive to seek trade deals with other Commonwealth countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, once Brexit becomes a reality.