'Positive impact' of Brexit on agri-food industry highlighted
Brexit has helped boost Northern Ireland's agri-food industry, MLAs have been told.
Agriculture minister Michelle McIlveen said there had been a rise in sheep, cattle and dairy prices in the wake of June's referendum result.
Addressing a Stormont scrutiny committee, the DUP Minister said: "Since the referendum, we have witnessed a positive impact on our agri-food industry.
"We have seen a significant depreciation on the value of sterling compared to both the euro and dollar and this is beneficial to exporting companies.
"As a result, there has been an improvement on the price of sheep, cattle and milk for our local farmers.
"Northern Ireland goods are more competitive in export markets and the costs of food products coming into the UK are more expensive compared to locally produced products."
Devaluation of sterling could also mean a better rate on the value of basic farm payments to farmers, the minister added.
Miss McIlveen, who was appointed in May, appeared before the agriculture committee to outline her priorities as the UK moves towards exiting the European Union.
"We must ensure our continued ability to trade effectively and profitably," she said.
"It is vital that we get the best deal possible for Northern Ireland as the UK negotiates the terms of exit.
"I want to see open trading arrangements continue for existing markets, and a much more progressive approach to developing new markets across the world."
She spoke briefly about the establishment of an advisory committee to identify sector specific challenges arising from Brexit, which met for the first time on Wednesday.
The minister intends to visit China in the near future to promote Northern Ireland's agri-food market, MLAs were told.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon, who chairs the committee, claimed some farmers were concerned at a rise in animal feed prices.
She said: "The positive impact that you talk about in terms of the price of sheep and pork is certainly true and is something I have also heard from stakeholders.
"However, those who have to buy feed in are saying that their concern is any gain is outweighed by the fact that the price of their feed is going up.
"That is something which needs to be looked at."
The SDLP's Patsy McGlone called for "guarantees" that incomes for farmers, environmental and rural development groups could be sustained at current levels post-2020.
But the minister said: " No-one is in the position to guarantee after 2020 even if we were still in the European system anyway."