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High Standards will be Ireland's saving grace in face of Brexit

Publication : Irish Independent

Author : Ian Marshall

The one issue plaguing all Irish businesses throughout the Brexit furore has been uncertainty, and in the absence of any meaningful detail by those at the helm of this UK crusade, it is virtually impossible to plan for or mitigate against the risks of Brexit.

Herein lies the problem for everyone in the agri-food industry.

One of the worst things you can do in politics is make promises to garner support and then fail to deliver when you are mandated to lead. That's exactly the place Boris Johnson finds himself in following three years of battle cries such as 'Take Back Control' and 'Get Brexit Done' - despite serious concerns that the dividends promised may not be realised, control may ultimately lie in the hands of others, and Brexit is far from being done.

Still, some machination of Brexit is upon us; still without clarity and with a very tight window to deliver trade agreements - agreements that will define the regulations around the standards of products and services, raising huge questions for the agri-food industry about the integrity of food, the quality of food and the safety of food in any trade deal.

The UK government will be determined to demonstrate delivery on their two mantras of leaving, and taking back control, and we can now be sure they will exercise regulatory divergence and reinforce the notion that they are firmly in control on trade deals.

The potential impacts are not clear, especially when opinion is divided in Westminster: some are calling for diminution of rules and regulations, ensuring maintenance of access to the UK market, thereby avoiding food price inflation; others want the implementation of higher standards to protect UK consumers and farmers and ensure that the UK doesn't lead a race to the bottom while striving to deliver a 'cheap food' policy.

That policy is further complicated by the requirements to deliver on environmental targets while supplying high-quality, traceable, assured food to a demanding consumer completely au fait with the conversation on carbon footprints, emissions, sustainability and environmental responsibility.

There could be negative impacts for Ireland exporting to the UK. These are best mitigated by ensuring that we become an exemplar of clean, green food with high food standards and integrity of our supply chain driven by quality and moving away from selling bulk on commodity markets.

Ultimately, the UK's main trading partner will remain the EU, including Ireland after Brexit representing 46pc of all exports and 53pc of all imports. It would be irresponsible to cut this market off in order facilitate divergent standards and forge trade deals with third parties.

However, there is a risk that standards could include environmental criteria and could present the Irish industry with significant challenges.

High standards and integrity will be Ireland's saving grace despite the actions of others. We need to move as fast as possible to be the best and protect our industry.

Ian Marshall is a former president of the UFU and was appointed to the Seanad last year

Indo Farming



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