The vital trade relationship Northern Ireland’s farmers have with the European Union—in particular cross-border trade with the Republic of Ireland, which alone accounts for 65% of all the food and drink exports from Northern Ireland – will face an uncertain future outside of the European Union.
This is the warning from Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss, who has argued that if the UK were to leave the EU Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would not be able to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with the Republic of Ireland.
As part of the EU single market, Northern Ireland’s farmers and food producers can easily sell their goods to consumers across the border, benefitting from tariff-free access and common standards on labelling, safety and welfare. It is far from certain what trading relationship the UK would have with the EU, including the Republic of Ireland, should the UK leave—farmers could face crippling tariffs to sell their goods to Europe and a red tape ‘double whammy’ of different rules around inspections and labelling to sell abroad and at home – two sets of regulations, rather than one.
The single market is particularly important to Northern Ireland’s food and drink industry as it sells a much higher proportion of its food and drink exports to the EU—83% compared to the UK average of 60%. Northern Ireland’s food and drink export trade with the EU brings in over £1bn to the economy. Meat exports account for over a quarter of this export value, at £280m, with dairy and eggs a close second at £240m.