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Industry chiefs voice fears over EU buyers turning backs on Ulster food

By Margaret Canning

The rejection of produce from Northern Ireland by EU consumers - and higher prices for imported goods at home - are among the risks facing us in the event of a Brexit, it was claimed today.

The CBI, which represents big firms, along with retail body Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), joined Northern Ireland Food & Drink (NIFDA) to urge members to vote to stay.

CBI Northern Ireland director Nigel Smyth said "every credible" business survey had shown that most Northern Ireland private sector employers wanted to stay.

And he said that the CBI had estimated that families were better off by around £2,700 to £3,300 every year because of EU membership.

"Being in the EU provides a strong platform for Northern Ireland to attract investment, and to export our goods and services, helping to create jobs and improve living standards."

And he said a Brexit would put at risk any additional attractiveness which Northern Ireland could otherwise count on, when it introduces lower corporation tax in 2018.

Mr Smyth said: "A decision to leave the EU would create enormous uncertainty putting at risk the potential to attract more investment from a lower corporation tax rate."

He said CBI had asked business advisory firm PwC to examine how the UK would fare in the event of a Brexit and if a trade deal was agreed swiftly - and what might happen if negotations were more prolonged.

Mr Smyth said: "The economic evidence was clear - leaving the EU would cause a serious shock to the UK economy, with a potential cost of £100bn and nearly a million jobs by 2020, with negative echoes that could last for many years after that.

"Even in the best case there would be a big hit to the UK economy."

And Michael Bell, head of NIFDA, said 60% of exports from Northern Ireland go to the EU - which was higher than the rest of the UK.

He said: "A Brexit will undoubtedly alienate the European consumer towards our produce and there is no guarantee that any subsequent UK government would not seek to solve budgetary challenges in the future by reducing rural farm support in favour of health welfare or education."

And Glyn Roberts (left), chief of NIIRTA, said the EU meant customers had greater choice and lower prices, "with no import taxes added onto prices in the shops". He added: "The uncertainty of Brexit is the very last thing Northern Ireland's retail sector needs at this time."

But businessman Jeff Peel of Quadriga Consulting - spokesman for Business for Britain, which is aligned with VoteLeave - said: "There is no compelling evidence that a remain vote is in the interests of the economy.

"Evidence that is offered is merely conjecture. There is evidence that the EU - and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in particular - results in higher food costs. The UK's meeting EU 'green' energy requirements pushes up our energy costs (part of the reason for the closure of the Port Talbot steel plant and Michelin Tyre plant here in Northern Ireland)."

And he said that only 20% of EU exports went to EU countries other than the Republic - and that the common travel/trade area with the Republic was likely to continue.

He added: "Also it's not clear why EU shoppers would shun Northern Ireland produce.

"They don't shun designed in California and manufactured in China."

Belfast Telegraph