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CIEH calls for clarity over Brexit border

Stuart Spear30/11/2017 - 11:18

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Complex web of food trade crosses border daily
Complex web of food trade crosses border daily

CIEH is calling for an end to rhetoric and a move towards tangible solutions to the issue of food and animals being traded across the Irish border as Brexit approaches. 

Given the level of trade in food crossing the border on a daily basis CIEH is warning that unless a solution is found to the border empasse the outcome could be ‘catastrophic’ for the food industry and environmental standards across the island of Ireland.

Figures for 2015 show that between Euro 4.5bn and Euro 5bn of agri-business is exported from the Republic of Ireland to the UK each year. Of which Euro 1bn is traded from Southern to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland sold £700m of food to the republic of Ireland along with £2.1bn to Great Britain, of which a significant amount goes through Irish ports in order to reach supermarkets in the South of England. Any additional paper work, cost and waiting times at ports would risk delays resulting in missed sales and fines.

There is also a significant trade in live imports of pigs and cattle from Southern Ireland to Northern Irish processors to enable them to achieve scale efficiency in their plants. Forty per cent of pigs produced in Republic of Ireland are sent north for processing.

A quarter of milk from Northern Ireland goes for processing across the border. Around 36 per cent of Northern Irish lamb is processed in Ireland, while 50 per cent of Northern Ireland’s milled flour goes to Ireland for use in baking products.

A problem for Southern Ireland is that if it is processing milk and lamb from Northern Ireland into its products for onward sale into the EU it may no longer be possible to label such products as European and so they may no longer be subject to lower tariffs.

CIEH is warning that with such a complex network of food trade between north and south there is the need for the EU, the UK and Ireland to work together to bring greater clarity for the agri-business. 

‘At present, it seems like each of the parties engaged in these discussions are in their respective corners. The UK does not seem to see Irish border as a priority, with Owen Paterson just this week dismissing the issue as overblown and minor. On the other hand, the Republic and the EU see it as a problem solely for the UK to solve, when the reality is that this is everyone’s problem,’ said Gary McFarlane CIEH’s Northern Ireland Director.

‘Reverting to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic could be disastrous; economically, socially and politically. It is something that no one wants. Yet, without constructive solutions and flexibility, it is exactly where we could end up.’

A confidential study carried out between the UK government and the European Commission has revealed a morass of additional border issue that have so far received little attention. These include agreements on shared waterways and an agreement to treat the whole of Ireland as an epidemiological whole for the purposes of animal disease such as TB and foot and mouth.

Other less obvious issues include joint health agreements allowing patients to buy medicines either side of the border, ambulances travelling across the border, shared cross-border cancer treatments and shared special needs educational resources. 

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