Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 13 November 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Implications of Brexit for Agriculture Sector: Discussion
Ms Maree Gallagher:
There probably will be a certain amount of crossover with Mr. McKeever's answers. I will start with Deputy Martin Kenny's questions and work the other way around the room for a bit of diversity.
On the landbridge model, the Deputy asked whether food and other product could go from Ireland straight through Britain to the Continent without checks. There have been attempts to investigate if that could happen. The problem is that at the moment we already have checks. Sanitary and phytosanitary checks particularly for food of animal origin already exist. In the context of the Single Market rules that are in place, it would be very difficult to allow product to leave Ireland and cross the landbridge without any checks. That is hard to conceive at the moment.
That said, I am aware that in the pharmaceutical area where it is necessary to have batch release and a qualified person who releases the product, there is some talk that in that area, product could be released in Europe to come via the landbridge into Ireland and provided it does not stop and nothing happens to it in the course of that, it would not need to be further released from the UK into Ireland.
These issues are being addressed in an attempt to find a way of facilitating trade without putting unnecessary barriers in the way. I believe it would be very difficult to end up with no checks mainly for the reasons Mr. McKeever already stated particularly with cross-Border trade. As Deputy Martin Kenny is based in Leitrim, he is very familiar with that.
The real risk is with any form of cheap-food policy in the UK, if the UK looks to do trade deals with South American countries such as Brazil and Argentina or indeed with the USA, which has very different quality and safety standards from those in the EU. At the moment product moving within the EU is already subject to checks but they are reasonably limited. With a border and potentially product coming into the UK, checks will be required and it is just a matter of where they take place. One of the reasons for such checks will be the maintenance of Single Market rules on food safety, quality and standards.
Our members would love trade to continue exactly as it is. They have been looking for maintenance of the status quo. If the news today delivers that, it will be fantastic and very welcome. Based on how things have been going, it seems that trade without checks will potentially be an issue.
As we know the UK is not self-sufficient in food production; it produces 60% and relies on 40% of imports, a significant amount of which comes from Ireland. That is likely to continue and our members certainly want it to continue. As part of some of these trade deals, however, the UK will need to consider giving concessions to other countries. Usually in concluding trade deals it comes down to an issue with the cows - either meat or dairy. If the UK wants to do a trade deal with the US, it is likely that the US will push for increased exports of beef and other products as part of that. As we know, there are issues in Europe with US hormone-fed beef and chlorinated chickens. These are real issues and have been impediments to the EU doing trade deals with the US in the past. If the UK is adamant that it wants to go out and do these trade deals, there will be issues relating to food. The potential weakness lies with food coming into the UK, which then could potentially get on to the European market.
The customs voucher scheme we have recommended is exactly as Mr. McKeever said. The vast majority of Irish companies have not had to consider customs for the past 40 years. It is not that it is rocket science; it is that it is a timely, paper-filling administrative burden. For an organisation, whose margins are tight and already has an enormous amount of paperwork to deal with, this is an added burden and will challenge most companies other than the very large ones.
We need to provide support to all companies to bring them up to speed on what will be required. The courses run by the IEA have been very well attended. We have also run Brexit courses and seminars. We are aware that the State agencies are doing as much work as possible. We will need people who understand the system and can figure that out where products are going and the potential tariff to be applied. That will lead to increased costs. Earlier I referred to qualified persons, QPs, in the pharmaceutical sector. Ireland now has a shortage of qualified persons who are suitably qualified. As a result the wages they can command are increasing. As Mr. McKeever has said, I suspect that will become an issue with customs and that skill. We really need to focus on ensuring those skills exist throughout the chain.
I think that covers most of the questions Deputy Martin Kenny raised.