The President of ICMSA has said that farmers and agri-food operators are becoming anxious about what he called the “weight of consideration” being given to the border question to the detriment of the economically much more significant Ireland-UK ‘East-West’ trading relationships.
Pat McCormack was speaking after Bord Bia published a survey that showed that a majority of Irish food and drinks companies continued to believe that they would have opportunities in the UK despite Brexit.
Noting that expression of confidence, Tipperary farmer Pat McCormack said that while he did not wish to appear pessimistic that it was hugely important that this confidence did not ‘tip over’ into a complacency that things would “work out in the end and that the interests of Irish farming and agri-food were being looked out for”.
Mr McCormack said that the Irish Government had clearly prioritised the preservation of the no-border arrangement with the North as our ‘Bottom Line’ and enjoyed the total solidarity of the Commission on that question.
But it was incredibly important to acknowledge that this emphasis effectively prioritised the political over the economic.
While that was our Government’s direction and a choice they were perfectly entitled – even bound – to make, the net effect was that the centuries old, Euro multi-billion trade between Irish food producers and their British customers was relegated and often seemed, so far as the Irish focus was concerned, to be something of an afterthought to the ‘No Hard Border’ core policy.
“We don’t expect the Irish Government to move from their ‘No Hard Border’ policy – nor should they. But, to be very frank, ICMSA believes that we should be giving the trade figures a little more concentration and not getting completely hung up on the question of how exactly the post Brexit border with the north will look.
“ In 2016, 30 per cent of Northern Ireland’s exports- about €2 billion - came south, whereas just 1 per cent of the Republic’s exports - which still amounted to €1 billion - went north. In other words, the North-South trading relationship is much, much more important for Northern Ireland whereas for the Republic, and very specifically for the Republic’s farming and food production sectors, it is the West-East, Republic-to-Britain trading relationship that is our core economic concern”, said Mr McCormack.
“ICMSA accepts the validity of the Government’s decision to concentrate on the Border and prioritise the political over the economic, but everyone has to realise that our economic ties are much more East-West than they are North-South”, he said.
“This is a balancing act – and a very difficult one at that.
“We have to stand our ground on our right not to have a Hard Border with the North with whom we do significant business and have everyday interaction, but we equally have to weigh up the reality that it is our relationship with our British customers that drives our multi-billion Euro beef, cheese and other Agri-sectors.
“ I wonder whether we having been stressing the North-South political dimension at the expense, literally, of the East-West economic link”, concluded Mr McCormack.