UK food industry calls for early Irish Brexit deal

Leaders of the British food and drink industry have signed an open letter to the government calling for early Brexit trade deals with the Republic of Ireland.

Signed by 35 representative bodies in the UK food and drink supply chain, the open letter addressed to the British government requested a “clear and early statement” that maintaining trade with EU member Ireland would be a priority in negotiations.

“It is imperative that once Article 50 is triggered the future border arrangement are high on the target list for prompt resolution,” it said.

Signatories to the joint letter include the heads of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), British Retail Consortium, Dairy UK and Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association who together with the other 31 representative bodies, employ 4m people.

The letter highlighted that the Republic of Ireland had bought more from the UK food industry than the United States, China, Russia, Brazil, Canada and Japan combined, accounting for almost one fifth of total UK food and drink exports and more than a third of Ireland’s exports had reached UK shores.

The UK supplies 80% of the flour used in the Republic, while more than half of Irish beef and cheese is exported to the UK, according to the letter.

“The seamless single market in food and drink across the UK and Ireland allows the free movement of goods and workers,” it said.

“It also means that the majority of food sourced in Ireland from EU and international sources, particularly fresh produce, arrives via ports and supply chains across the whole of the UK.

“This complete interdependence is essential to ensuring our food security and to feeding both countries.”

Speaking in Dublin in January, UK prime minister Theresa May said that she agreed with Irish prime minister Enda Kenny that there should be no hard border following the UK’s departure from the EU.

“Of course there are elements of full membership of the customs union that would restrict our ability to trade and do trade agreements with other parts of the world,” she said.

“But I believe, and this is what we are working on, that we need to find a solution which enables us to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland so that we can continue to see the trade, the everyday movement, that we have seen up to now.”

May has yet to unveil any Brexit plans in detail, and plans for maintaining the current relationship with Ireland remain unknown.

The authors of the open letter said that the key priority for the government should be to keep the tariff-free market between the UK and Ireland.

“Disruptive customs barriers, port health controls and other costly bureaucratic requirements that impede the movement of good and workers must be avoided,” they said.

“They would disrupt established supply chain networks that operate across the UK and Ireland and would cause significant economic damage while adding to existing food price inflation faced by consumers.”

The letter was welcomed by Food and Drink Industry Ireland, which said it was calling for negotiations to produce outcomes that support the closest possible economic and trading relationship between the EU and the UK.

Matthew Evans, corporate affairs executive at FDF, told FoodNavigator deals had to be made quickly to provide stability for the industry.

“We are having continuing and constructive dialogue with government around this issue and other matters of concern—whether access to workforce, a stable regulatory framework or the future trading environment,” he said.

“Article 50 has yet to be triggered. However, we believe the question of what will happen to trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland once the UK leaves the EU is crucial and should be agreed at the earliest possible opportunity in order to provide certainty and predictability for the industry.”

Prime minister Theresa May announced she would trigger Article 50 on 29 March, meaning Britain should officially leave the EU no later than April 2019.

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