Stormont's Brexit panel to examine the future for Northern Ireland's agri-food industry
A Stormont-run Brexit committee is to examine the "significant opportunities and challenges" for Northern Ireland's agri-food sector.
The Brexit consultative committee has been set up by the Agriculture Minister to gauge and examine the views of businesses in the sector here in the wake of the UK's vote to leave the European Union.
It includes some of the biggest names in the industry, including the Agri-Food Strategy Board, Dairy UK and the Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association.
Agriculture and related industries are likely to be hit hard by the withdrawal, with farmers receiving more than £2bn from the EU in subsidies over a seven-year period.
Speaking after the group's first meeting, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Michelle McIlveen said: "It provides a forum for open and frank discussion and I want to encourage those involved to provide me with clear advice and feedback on the needs and concerns of their sectors.
"The United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union presents significant opportunities, and challenges, for the local agri-food, fisheries and environmental sectors.
"It is therefore hugely important that we establish close two-way communications between Government and industry representatives, so that views and analysis are shared and taken account of as we develop our policy programme and negotiating position.
"Since taking office and throughout the summer, through a series of visits and events, I have reached out to and engaged constructively with the agri-food, fisheries and environment sectors; this new committee formalises and builds on that initial contact.
"The committee brings together organisations that are at the forefront of Northern Ireland's agri-food sector and international trade, as well as representatives from the environmental sector."
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said: "The agri-food sector is an important and growing part of our economy.
"That is why we have established this committee, to ensure we have an open forum through which to gain industry insight to ensure our particular circumstances - which will be different in terms of agriculture to the rest of the UK - are represented in the negotiations to leave the EU."
Members of the committee include some of Northern Ireland's largest employers, including Moy Park.
Ms McIlveen said that the devolved administrations need to occupy a "central role in the UK's negotiations to leave the EU".
She said, following meetings with her Welsh counterpart Lesley Griffiths, as Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis, that she hoped to "maintain and build upon these contacts in the coming months".
"As we develop a new suite of policies that best suit Northern Ireland's needs, this committee will help ensure that the local agri-food, fisheries and environmental sectors are properly represented and I look forward to working with the bodies represented on that basis," she said.
Following Brexit, Dale Farm parent company United Dairy Farmers said the EU vote had led to "an uncertain outlook".