The UK depends on the EU for approximately one-quarter of its food, according to the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
The benefits of forming the EU for agriculture was that it made it considerably easier for the UK and the other 27 European states to buy and sell goods to each other – it was a commitment to the free movement of labour, capital, goods and services.
Now, with the Brexit vote forcing the departure of the UK from the EU, it is uncertain what agreements if any will be made between the UK and the EU countries.
So what does that mean for Ireland?
It’s a worrying prospect, as it could have a detrimental effect on the agri-food industry in Ireland. Ireland is heavily reliant on the UK as an export market and, while the UK is heavily reliant on imports, it can and may look further afield than Ireland for them. A new key driver may be - ‘where is the cheapest source?’
The biggest export from Ireland to the UK is the Beef industry.
We export over 90% of our beef and last year the UK imported 272,000t of Irish beef, valued at almost €1.1 billion.
While less than 10% of beef imported into the UK currently comes from Brazil, the impact of a drive for cheaper meat would see that increase dramatically and those paying the price would be the Irish beef farmers.
But not only could the Beef be affected. On the dairy side, a trade deal between the UK and New Zealand could have a serious impact on Irish dairy exports.
This will no doubt be a concern for Irish Dairy Farmers but also large Irish Food Manufacturing companies in this industry, such as; Kerry Foods and Glanbia.
What can the Irish Agri - Food business do to combat the impact of Brexit?
As it will take two years for the UK to formally extricate itself from the EU after activating Article 50, the formal mechanism detaching a country from the EU, the long-term impact on the food industry is likely to be largely dependent on what kind of new trading relationship it intends to forge with the rest of the EU
And while there is another 2 years before this is fully operational, Ireland must now start to position itself to look to new markets, but we must also look to increase our presence in food markets with branded, premium products that command a high price and the maximum return to the producer.