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Irish cheddar cheese amongst Brexit's first victims

By Ciaran Moran

Cheddar cheese has become one of the first victims of Brexit with exports to the UK slumping in the first three months of the year.

In March, UK imports of Cheddar of which Irish product accounts for some 8opc totalled just 4,162 tonnes, 633 tonnes (13pc) less than the same month last year, according to official UK customs figures.

Meanwhile, cumulative imports of cheddar stood at 96,567 tonnes, a decrease of 5,067 tonnes (5pc) from the previous year. Imports from Ireland were down 10,330 tonnes (12pc).

Unfortunately, for Irish dairy processors and farmers the UK represents the only viable market for cheddar.

Agriculture Department secretary general Aidan O'Driscoll told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently  that while the dairy sector is less exposed to the risk of Brexit than other areas, an exception is the Cheddar industry.

He said 60pc of Irish Cheddar exports currently go to the UK.

"Nobody else eats Cheddar. It can't be diverted off to France," he warned.

However, some in the dairy sector have highlighted potential Brexit dangers for the sector.

Conor Mulvihill, Director the Irish Dairy Industries Association, said that ‘Irish Dairy is a deeply integrated industry with strong north/south and east/west ties on these islands that have been built up over generations.

“Our member businesses are key players north of the border and in the UK mainland.

“To take the example of cheddar alone, 2016 saw the UK import over 78,000 tonnes of Irish product, which represented 82% of all the cheddar they imported.

“But already we have seen the cold winds of Brexit and the related significant sterling deprecation mean that over 10,000 tones less of cheddar were delivered to our key partner market.

“WTO tariffs are set at a punitive €1,671 a tonne for this product.

“To put this amount of product behind a threatened tariff wall of an extra €130m plus a year would be disastrous for the industry as the UK represents the only viable market for cheddar.

On the growing specialised nutrition side, where the Irish dairy industry is becoming a global leader in the production of functional foods for sports people, infants and the wellness sector.

The IDIA fears that imposition of a hard border will fracture our island of Ireland milk pool and will cause untold problems for our hard fought reputation because of confusion over regulations, rules of origin and food safety.’

Mulvihill said that ‘the dairy industry is a textbook study on why early clarity needs to emerge from Brexit negotiations to allow our member businesses and their farmers continue the success of the industry into the future.’

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