Ritchie in call for urgent Brexit plan

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South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has pressed the permanent secretary of DAERA to reveal the implementation plan for the establishment of the industry led marketing organisation for the food sector in Northern Ireland.

She has also stressed that it is imperative to get the NI Executive up and running to deal with a plan for Brexit and the best trade deals with special status to be achieved.

Ms Ritchie added: “I have been pressing the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to ascertain what concrete steps will be taken to ensure that the beef sector will be protected in Brexit negotiations through the allocation of special status for Northern Ireland which would involve tariff free access for the export of all our food exports – particularly as there is much trade with the South of Ireland which will remain in the European Union.

“I also told the Permanent Secretary that there was an economic and political imperative to ensure that our agricultural industry was protected in such negotiations,” said the MP.

“I have been told that the Agri-Food Strategy Board identified exports as fundamental to the long term sustainability of the industry and that a strategic marketing focus is required to maintain and develop markets. To that end, a marketing review was undertaken led by the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. That review concluded that a new industry-led marketing organisation, based on the Scotland Food and Drink model should be developed to strategically lead and co-ordinate the industry’s marketing activities.

“Whilst the Permanent Secretary has assured me that the DAERA is committed to the development of that organisation and officials are currently working with the Agri Food Strategy Board and the Department of Economy to develop a suitable model tailored for Northern Ireland which satisfies the requirements of both industry and government, I am concerned that it has not yet been established – particularly as Brexit negotiations are looming and the compelling political imperative is to protect our food export base and local agri-food economy. In that vein, I have gone back to the Permanent Secretary of DAERA urging him that he and his officials get their skates on to ensure that this work is implemented as quickly as possible to ensure that the marketing led organisation is established. DAERA must not allow officialdom or political instability to prevent or impede the need to protect and safeguard our agri-food industry.”