An Alliance delegation, including Brexit spokesperson Stephen Farry and Agriculture and Environment Spokesperson David Ford, have met Ulster Farmers’ Union President Barclay Bell and Chief Executive Wesley Aston to discuss the impact of Brexit on agriculture and food processing sectors and the potential way forward.
The delegation welcomed the opportunity to share its continuing policy work with the UFU representatives, while also hearing about the work being done by the Union and others in the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland.
David Ford said: “Agri-food is a very significant element of our economy, representing around 10% of overall activity, with a slightly higher figure when it comes to employment.
“It is the sector which is most vulnerable to Brexit, given the dependency on access to markets and trade, both within the UK and with other EU countries, and access to labour. There are also major concerns about the future of support payments for agriculture and rural development.
“Agri-food processing is heavily integrated on an all-island basis, while the Great Britain market is particularly important in terms of sales. Agriculture is much more important in relative terms within our economy than the UK as whole, which reinforces the importance of a strong Northern Ireland voice in the search for solutions.
Stephen Farry added: “Alliance believes that the UK as a whole should remain within both a Custom Union and the Single Market. This is the only means to avoid distortions in trade and also allow new markets to be developed.
“Short of that, consideration should be given to the Northern Ireland solution of the region remaining within the Single Market, and the most advantageous trade arrangements put in place.
“By contrast, there are real dangers for Northern Ireland from being cut off from the European Union market. In particular, if the UK opts for unilateral trade liberalisation under WTO rules many aspects of the local agriculture would rapidly become no longer competitive or viable if faced with significant imports of food produced to lower standards.
“It is vital that we ensure that a key cornerstone of our economy is allowed to not just survive but flourish.”