Belfast Telegraph

Brexit could help Republic's sheep farmers

By Margaret Donnelly

The Republic's sheep sector could benefit from Brexit if sheep meat exports from the UK to the EU are curtailed, it's been claimed.

France is the largest buyer of Irish sheep meat and a Brexit that leaves the UK with reduced access to the market could be good news for Irish farmers.

But it could mean bad news for sheep farmers in Northern Ireland.

The UK, New Zealand and Ireland are the three main countries France imports sheep meat from, with the UK providing the lion's share of over 40% of imports.

France has imported 90,000-100,000 tonnes of sheep meat in recent years and remains the largest export market for Irish sheep meat.

And the Irish share of that market could grow. Kevin Hanrahan of the Republic's food and drink development authority Teagasc has said that while exports to France are approximately 18,000 tonnes or double of what is exported to the UK, a Brexit that leaves the UK with reduced access to the French lamb market could be good for Ireland as it looks to capitalise on that possible opportunity.

The UK, he said, has an agri-food deficit worth €31.7m and while 43% of Irish agri-foods exports went to the UK in 2015, including 52% of beef, Brexit will affect the Irish agri-food trade.

"There will probably be a slower growth in UK incomes, so slower growth of Irish agri-food exports and so reduced incomes for Irish farmers," he said.

However, he said as the UK is Ireland's main competitor in the French market and its access could be affected by Brexit, it could be good news for Irish sheep farmers.

The UK's Agriculture and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) has said that Ireland has been particularly successful in exporting to France, with volumes up 21% on the year for the January-September 2016 period.

Belfast Telegraph