Northern Ireland sheep sector would be devastated by effects of hard Brexit, says report
Northern Ireland's sheep sector would be devastated in the event of a hard Brexit, because 90% of the sector's exports go to the EU, a Westminster report has suggested.
Just under half of all the lambs born in Northern Ireland cross the border to go to the Irish Republic, the report - by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - said.
The report focuses on the impact on different agri-food sectors of the UK having to trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules if there is no deal.
The EU is the UK's single largest trading partner in agri-food products, accounting for 60% of exports and 70% of imports.
"Although the [UK] Government's intention is to agree a comprehensive free trade agreement and customs agreement with the EU, there is no guarantee that this will occur," the report said. "In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a free trade agreement, UK-EU trade will proceed under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
"Reverting to WTO tariffs will have a significant impact upon agriculture as tariffs are higher for agricultural products than for other goods and services."
The UK's food and farming industry generates over £110bn a year and employs one in eight people in the UK.
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The report noted that the UK Government has offered no clarity to the agricultural industry on its post-Brexit policy.
And it highlighted the potential impact to Northern Ireland's agriculture industry from Brexit, noting that trade between north and south was "interlinked".
It pointed out that there are 390,000 live lamb crossings across the border each year.
The Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland told the committee the sheep industry was particularly exposed to the effects of more complicated border arrangements, as 45% of all lambs born in the North are exported to the Republic each year. This trade was worth around £31.5m in 2016.
The Andersons Centre, an agri-food consultancy firm, estimated that in Northern Ireland alone, sheep industry exports to the EU would drop by about 90% if tariffs were imposed.
The dairy industries in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland act as one through the supply chain, the report said, and dairy products cross the border several times between the farm gate and the consumer.
For example, dairy giant LacPatrick, which makes butter, liquid milk, cheese and powders, handles and processes over 600 million litres of milk from more than 1,000 farmers, with over 500 million litres coming from suppliers in Northern Ireland, the remainder from the Republic.
Republic of Ireland dairy co-operatives own approximately 60% of the processing capacity in Northern Ireland, the report points out, with LacPatrick a key player. Exports to the Republic of Ireland were approximately 15% of total sales of the Northern Ireland dairy industry in 2015.
The report said the UK Government must support British farming and agriculture in preparing for business post-Brexit.
"Delays at border inspection posts lead to increased costs, and are a threat to perishable goods," the report concluded.
"It is imperative that the Government sets out how it intends to ensure that the right IT systems and infrastructure are in place for the import and export of agricultural produce so that businesses can continue to trade smoothly with Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, and the rest of the world."