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Beef processor warns of EU exit's effect on industry

By Louise Hogan

The head of Irish beef processor ABP - which has two factories employing 650 people in Northern Ireland - has said Brexit will have "very substantial" consequences for the industry.

Paul Finnerty of ABP, which has sites in Lurgan, Co Armagh and Warrenpoint, Co Down, said the primary producers would ultimately be worst hit as a result of the vote to leave the UK, warning that its economy was already "fragile" before Brexit. The businessman said he was concerned that the time frame for the UK to strike agreements, such as a trade deal for South American beef, was a lot shorter than people expected.

Mr Finnerty said they were going to see a "pulling down of the shutters" and a "pro-British agenda" heightened.

The businessman said he was concerned that the time frame for the UK to strike agreements, such as a trade deal for South American beef, was a lot shorter than people expected. He warned sterling has depreciated by 25% since last November against the euro.

Mr Finnerty was among 180 food and drink exporters at a briefing on Brexit held by Bord Bia.

Larry Murrin, the chief executive of Dawn Farm Foods, said the Irish Government had to protect the 220,000 jobs in Ireland's agri-food and drink sector.

He admitted his biggest concern in the short-term was the impact of the uncertainty following Brexit on UK consumer behaviour. It came as Aidan Cotter, the boss of food promotion agency Bord Bia, warned that companies were in "new and unchartered waters".

The UK is still Ireland's single most important market with 41% of food and drink exports worth €4.4bn (£3.77bn) destined for British shop shelves.

He said they would be working to help food and drink exporters manage currency volatility.

"The wider food and agri sector in this country - it is not just 100,000 farm families, it is 220,000 food and agri jobs including the farmers," said Mr Murrin.

"It is the most important indigenous sector that Ireland Inc has and to that extent it must be protected.

"It is not good enough to say about the resilience in the industry, this is unprecedented. I'm not saying the Government should come out and act tomorrow but certainly I think the Government needs to be ready to act."

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