‘Uncertainty is one of the words featured most in discussions’

LMC staff. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
LMC staff. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Friday, June 24, 2016 lives long in the memory as the day when people awoke to the news that the electorate of the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union (EU).

Few people would have thought that by November 2019 the terms of withdrawal from the EU have yet to be ratified by the Westminster Parliament.

Rarely has an issue been so hotly debated as to what Brexit should actually look like, with some in society who want an absolute clean break no-deal outcome for the UK, those who want the UK to continue to remain part of the EU and everything in between. With a general election looming across the UK it is highly likely that debate will get even more intense and divisive the closer we get to Westminster election day on December 12, 2019.

As a non-political organisation which provides a range of technical and promotional services to the Northern Ireland beef and sheep meat industry, LMC’s main interest over the last three and a half years has been to support industry efforts to ensure that whatever the outcome of the negotiations, positions have been well informed by facts and transparency. The farming and processing industry has been consistent and united in its total opposition to a damaging no-deal exit from the EU. When the mantra was being tossed around after Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was triggered in March 2017 that no-deal was better than a bad deal, LMC commissioned a report from the Andersons Centre and Oxford Economics on the impact that World Trade Organisation (WTO) trading would have on the Northern Ireland beef and sheep meat industry. Using real data from industry the report, published in September 2017, showed that if the UK failed to agree a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU and has to instead revert to WTO trading conditions, Northern Ireland beef and sheep meat output could decline by 21 per cent, with exports to the EU collapsing by over 90 per cent. These are stark figures for an industry worth £1.2bn to the Northern Ireland economy and are well worth remembering.

Uncertainty is one of the words that has featured most in industry discussions since the middle of 2016. Uncertainty over the future shape and funding of agricultural support payments to industry once the UK has exited the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) arrangements; uncertainty over the UK’s future relationship with the EU and how this will impact on trade and labour availability; uncertainty over the impact of future UK trade deals with third countries (particularly those with major agricultural offensive interests); uncertainty over the future strength of the economy of the UK and the impact on consumer confidence and spending decisions. All of this uncertainty puts added pressure on our red meat industry which has already been facing challenging market conditions over the last 12 months.

Despite all of the water that still has to pass under the bridge before Brexit is resolved, the Northern Ireland beef and sheep meat industry has remained strongly committed to ensuring that it has a bright and certain future ahead. Industry participants have been working tirelessly across a range of important issues besides Brexit including the opening up of new market opportunities in countries such as China and Japan. Additionally, driving forward the sustainability agenda along supply chains, promoting the importance of including red meat as part of healthy balanced diets, playing a full and active role in the one health agenda to tackle Antimicrobial Resistance and making sure that those who seek to promote an anti-livestock and meat agenda are not given a free reign to capitalise on the current uncertainty being felt by the population.

What is certain is that our Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured beef and lamb is a world leading product and every effort must be made by policy makers to ensure that the industry and rural communities which produce, process and supply it to consumers in the UK, EU and further afield have a sustainable and profitable future to support the generations to come.

next week - David Sandford, N.I. Chair N.F.F.N.