United Dairy Farmers Group CEO David Dobbin believes that Northern Ireland should remain within the EU.
Speaking at the 19th Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) Annual Dinner he said that he was not a Europhile by conviction.
“But I firmly believe that staying in the EU represents the best business option for Northern Ireland’s agri food sectors. At a very basic level Europe provides our food companies with direct access to a market of 500 million consumers.
“This constitutes a tremendous exporting opportunity, which is just on our door step.”
Dobbin addressed the event in his capacity as NIFDA chairman.
He went on to call for the local agri-food industry to up its game, right along the supply chain, to take on the competition and seek out the best opportunities for increased value from the market.
“Our food and drink industry faces major challenges in the form of intense price competition and falling returns.”
“It cannot afford to sit out the current difficult markets and wait for things to get better.”
Dobbin said that whilst a number of factors are causing marketplace volatility and turmoil, food manufacturers and processors must focus on pro-actively pursuing opportunities rather than simply adopting a defensive position.
“General falls in commodity prices, adverse exchange rates, a price war on the High Street and the ending of EU milk quotas have all impacted upon the local food and drink industry.
“Intense price competition in falling markets has resulted in lower returns and deflation with the impact being felt right along the supply chain including farmers, processors and retailer none of whom was making any money. However, we must focus on the opportunities rather than the problems.”
Dobbin also pointed out that the Northern Ireland agri-food industry must exploit its strengths, including our island status which is enabling us to create a ‘food fortress’ with one of the highest integrity supply chains in the world.
He welcomed the recent political agreement which includes a reduction in the rate of corporation tax to 12.5% by 2018, and the continuation of the industrial rate relief for manufacturing.
NIFDA is due to issue its manifesto in early 2016, prior to the upcoming Assembly elections. It will outline the organisation’s main priorities for removing barriers to trade and improving the competitiveness of the sector. These include: reducing the industry’s cost and tax base; increasing market support activity; increasing product and process innovation activity; and improving the skills base and attracting talent to the sector.