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Gloom settles over Agri-Food firms

A UK government proposal to exempt food and agricultural products from border checks after Brexit could be unworkable, Irish farmers have warned.

Joe Healy, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president, said the UK would have to compromise on its trade ambitions with countries outside the EU for the idea to work.

Simon Coveney, the foreign affairs minister, also warned that animal diseases did not respect borders and that an outbreak of foot and mouth could have untold consequences. Non-EU countries face stringent border checks on their agriculture imports.
The measures protect humans, animals, plants from disease, pests and contaminants. They also ensure importers are compliant with animal welfare standards. North-south co-operation on agriculture has enabled the island of Ireland to be treated in as a whole for the purposes of animal health and welfare.

Proposals presented by the British government yesterday suggest that regulatory equivalence on agri-food measures could be agreed, where the UK and the EU adopt the same outcome and standards. “Providing the UK and the EU could reach a sufficiently deep agreement, this approach could ensure that there would be no requirement for any Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) or related checks for agri-food products at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland,” the document states.

Mr Healy said he welcomed the principle of avoiding agri-food checks at the border but that Britain’s proposals appeared to be unworkable. “Cross-border trade in agricultural produce encompasses crucial issues such as food safety and animal health,” the IFA president said.

“If the UK insists on pursuing its own free trade agreements, two divergent regimes would have to operate on the island and it is impossible to see how border checks could be avoided.

“The UK will have to compromise on their future trade ambitions with third countries in the area of agricultural and food products.”
He added that the UK’s insistence on leaving the customs union and pursuing an independent trade policy essentially amounted to a hard Brexit and would have negative consequences for Irish agriculture. The threat of delays to cargoes of live produce and the potential for tariffs were also playing on the minds of firms in Northern Ireland.

Darren Cunningham, of Killowen Shellfish on the shores of Carlingford Lough in Co Down, was quick to voice his worries. The company sells 30 to 40 tonnes of oysters to France and the Netherlands every year. “I can’t see any positive outcome of Brexit for the UK in general and it’s especially going to hurt us here [in Northern Ireland],” he said.

John and Mark Doran, of Down-based Cahir Linn Oysters, warned that expensive oyster seed coming into Ireland and valuable cargo for export was under threat of being wiped out if delayed at ports for as little as a day. “Oysters are not like cows that are fairly hardy. Picking them, checking, packing — it all causes stress. It’s like a grenade with the pin out,” John warned.
He said smugglers could try to take advantage of differences in tariffs and taxes once the UK leaves Europe. “Look at the diesel laundering. The whole British Army could not control it. It’s unworkable. It’s just a mess.”

Mr Coveney, who is a former agriculture minister, said he remained hopeful the agri-food sector would be viewed as a special case during negotiations.

Source: www.thetimes.co.uk - 17 August 2017