Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney believes that the UK and the EU-27 are now entering the Brexit end game.
Speaking at a debate, hosted by the Guild of Agricultural Journalists in Dublin, he predicted that an agreement on the required withdrawal agreement may well be reached before the end of November.
He said: “This will include a back-stop arrangement that will help maintain many of the trading arrangements that underpin the activities of farmers on both sides of the border.
“This includes the large volumes of milk that cross from Northern Ireland to the Republic for processing on a daily basis, the half a million sheep, born and reared in Northern Ireland that are processed annually south of the border plus the many thousands of pigs that come north for processing on a yearly basis.
“The withdrawal agreement covers four main areas. These are citizens’ right, the financial settlement between the UK and the EU-27, the length of the Brexit transition period and all the issues that relate to the functioning of the Irish border.”
“Not resolved yet is the prevention of circumstances that could lead to the re-establishment of physical border infrastructure as an unintended consequence of Brexit.
Mr Coveney added: “But this is only the beginning of a more detailed talks process that will determine the final trading arrangements between the UK and the EU
He continued: “The EU has shown great flexibility on the border issue. Above all else, a future EU: UK Brexit deal must recognise that we now have an all-island agri food sector in operation. This must not be endangered.
“The Irish government will insist that Theresa May holds to her promise, given last December, that the current free trading arrangements for the farming and food sectors are maintained on an all-island basis.”
Turning to the future support arrangements that must be made available to agriculture, Coveney said that family farms must be protected, adding: “This is the only way only way to keep rural economies intact. Farming on the basis of economy of scale would be a disaster for Europe as a whole. Keeping a direct payments’ system is also important. But the distribution of payments must be addressed so as to totally break the link with historic levels of farm output.
“The convergence to an average payment per hectare will work in this regard.”
Mr Coveney stressed that support must reflect the ways in which farmers produce food, form both an environmental and conservation management point of view.
“Farmers must be more conscious of the impact their production processes have on the environment,” he said.
“Where the Common Agricultural Policy is concerned, the greening of Pillar 1 payments has been the start of a journey in this regard.”