The Ulster Farmers’ Union says it cautiously welcomes the progress made on the UK’s withdrawal agreement from the EU and says the agreement, while not ideal, would ensure the UK avoids a no deal scenario.
UFU president, Ivor Ferguson said: “The situation remains very fluid and we are reviewing the document in detail. Ultimately, we would like a UK wide solution – full stop. However, this agreement does provide an insurance policy to prevent a no deal outcome, which would be disastrous for farm businesses and the economy in Northern Ireland.
“Farmers here provide safe, traceable and affordable food, while at the same time meeting some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the world. We have always argued that any deal, as far as possible, must allow the agriculture industry free and frictionless trade with the EU. Agri-food is the cornerstone of the Northern Ireland economy and any significant barriers to trade between NI and EU member states, NI and the Republic of Ireland, or NI and Great Britain would have a major impact.”
The draft protocol states, if necessary, that there would be no regulatory barriers between NI and GB. Goods from NI would still have unfettered access to the UK’s internal market. However, confirmation is needed that there would also be no commercial barriers when trading into GB. The UFU views this as critical.
“GB is our main market for food. Northern Ireland must be able to trade in the UK’s internal market without restrictions,” said Mr Ferguson.
The plan also ensures minimal disruption to the long-standing trading relationship between NI and Republic of Ireland.
“These relationships have been central to agriculture here since long before the UK joined the EU,” he said.
“While there are still some areas where we would like clarification, overall, the document now on the table would secure Northern Ireland’s existing agricultural trading relationships. That has always been our aim,” said Mr Ferguson.
The UFU president stressed that the organisation’s key focus has always been farming and it steers clear of wider political issues.
“Throughout the UK, Brexit has become overly political and emotive. We are focused on what is best for the future of family-run farm businesses in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Despite the progress, Mr Ferguson says there is still work to be done. “We are at a critical point. The 29th March is fast approaching and I would urge all involved to consider the deal carefully.”