We’ve now been out of the EU for just under a week and not much has changed. Confusion and uncertainty continue. And we are all still endeavouring to discover how this will impact our vitally important agri-food industry. It may indeed be a further year before the effects of withdrawal become clear especially in terms of the trade negotiations.
What the industry is most concerned about is our vital trade with Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Our government has pledged unfettered and frictionless access. However, the European Commission has indicated that some trade barriers are inevitable.Fortunately, we now have a local Executive and Assembly to help protect our interests and the markets for our food and drink.
I was encouraged, therefore, to read the excellentopinion piece in last week’s Farm Week from Diane Dodds, our new Economy Minister, who is determined to ensure the well–being of our farming and food processing sectors in both short and long terms. The minister can certainly count on the support of Food NI in her steadfast work to hold the Government to these pledges.
Access to the internal markets in Great Britain must be safeguarded. There must not be any barriers to trade between Britain and Northern Ireland and no discrimination against our goods in Britain. We also support the minister and executive in their focus on securing a meaningful input to the forthcoming trade negotiations with the EU.
I also read with interest of the approach by farming, environmental, animal welfare and public health organisations in Britain to ensure its manifesto commitments to UK food standards are protected post-Brexit.
A letter to the Prime Minister Boris Johnston, organised by the National Farmers’ Union and signed by 60 organisations including the UFU, said that Brexit “provides a vital opportunity for the UK to lead the way in devising a global trading system fit for the 21st century” and that it’s also a catalyst for “UK farming not just to be the envy of the world, but to provide gold-standard model for high standard, high quality, sustainable food production.”
The organisations call for the government to establish a trade and standards commission to ensure that animal welfare and food production standards are upheld during trade negotiations.
We believe that it is essential that Northern Ireland be included. Every effort must be made to ensure that the government does not sign trade deals that could lead to an influx of lower quality foods from regions which do not adhere to the rigorous farming and production standards which apply here.
Food NI is keen to work with ministers Dodds and Poots in helping to grow sales of our excellent food and drink products, continuing our collaboration with Invest NI’s Food and Drink Division and our work with Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland in promoting Northern Ireland as ‘The World’s Best Food Destination’.
Every day we meet passionate producers with innovative products, proof, if it were needed, that our food and drink sector has the expertise to make an even greater contribution to our health and well-being and the economy here.