The Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA) is seeking a Brexit outcome which recognises the strategic importance of local agriculture and its ability to produce high quality food in a sustainable way, according to the organisation’s chief executive Robin Irvine.
He added: “The province’s high dependence on imported feed materials for the intensive livestock sector means that it is vitally important to maintain existing trading patterns, ensuring favourable access to grains, feed and fertiliser on the global marketplace, preferably free of quotas or tariffs.
“Currently, 90% of feed ingredients are imported into Northern Ireland with roughly half coming from the EU and the remainder from third countries such as North and South America.
“Agri-businesses are calling for government to work constructively with EU partners to develop a bilateral approach to agricultural trade which facilitates historic trading patterns, while appreciating that the vast majority of food produced in Northern Ireland is for consumption beyond these shores.”
Irvine believes that practical and workable solutions could be agreed through a process of mutual recognition of standards and quality criteria.
“These high standards of assurance and safety, to which we currently operate, are key to market access, both new and existing,” he said.
“And they must be clearly visible throughout the food chain. However, they must also apply to all imports of food into the UK, particularly from the low cost regions where production is less well regulated.
“Local businesses are adamant that any solution must remove the threat of disruption to trade, through physical delays and administrative burden associated with a hard border. The daily movement of thousands of tonnes of meat, milk and grain throughout Ireland are essential to the efficient operation of many agri-food businesses.
“In addition, the transatlantic shipments of feed materials, with vessels often carrying over 50,000 tonnes, generally involve discharge in more than one port, including Belfast, Dublin or Cork.”
The NIGTA representative pointed out that industry leaders are calling for government to promote a growth agenda based on a competitive and efficient agri-food sector, which is delivering growth, jobs and productivity.
“This has to be based on profitable and efficient farm businesses, supported by a programme to drive competitiveness and sustainability. Steps must also be taken to provide protection against the extremes of price volatility at farm level.”
He concluded: “There is potential for such a programme to reduce the UK’s dependence on imported food through a focus on local supply, produced to the highest standards, in a well-regulated and welfare friendly environment and to invigorate farming and the rural economy.”