Brexit threat to 25,000 jobs in food and drink sec­tor

En­ter­prise Ire­land warns about fo­cus on UK as Ir­ish food ex­ported there rises 2% Agency an­nounces new drive to sup­port ex­porters mov­ing to new mar­kets

The Irish Times - Business - - FRONT PAGE - CHAR­LIE TAY­LOR

Com­pa­nies work­ing in the food sec­tor con­tinue to be the most vul­ner­a­ble in terms of a neg­a­tive im­pact from Brexit En­ter­prise Ire­land chief ex­ec­u­tive Julie Sin­na­mon

Some 25,000 Ir­ish jobs are vul­ner­a­ble to the im­pact of a hard Brexit, with the food sec­tor at par­tic­u­lar risk, En­ter­prise Ire­land has said.

The warn­ing comes as new fig­ures show food and drink ex­ports to the UK rose 2 per cent last year.

Is­su­ing its an­nual re­port yes­ter­day, En­ter­prise Ire­land chief ex­ec­u­tive Julie Sin­na­mon said Brexit has yet to have a se­ri­ous im­pact on Ir­ish ex­porters but fore­cast that “sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges” lie ahead.

The State agency said 85 per cent of client com­pa­nies have “Brexit-proofed” their busi­ness. En­ter­prise Ire­land said it is work­ing in­ten­sively on a one-to-one ba­sis with ex­porters to as­sist them with their con­tin­gency plans. It also said it ap­proved fund­ing of €74 mil­lion last year for more than 500 com­pa­nies which are par­tic­u­larly at risk from a hard Brexit.

Pri­or­ity mar­kets

En­ter­prise Ire­land an­nounced a new drive to sup­port ex­porters, which in­cludes an ex­pan­sion of its over­seas net­work in 14 pri­or­ity mar­kets over the next 18 months. Speak­ing at the launch of the re­port, Ms Sin­na­mon said com­pa­nies work­ing in the food sec­tor con­tinue to be the most vul­ner­a­ble to Brexit. Her com­ments come as Bord Bia re­ported a 2 per cent rise in the vol­ume of ex­ports in 2018, the ninth con­sec­u­tive year of growth. The value of Ir­ish food, drink and hor­ti­cul­ture ex­ports fell by 4 per cent, how­ever, over the year to €12.1 bil­lion. Some €4.5 bil­lion or 37 per cent of all food ex­ports went to the UK last year, up 2 per cent ver­sus 2017 de­spite cur­rency fluc­tu­a­tions and con­tin­ued po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty aris­ing from Brexit.

Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture, Food and the Ma­rine Michael Creed re­ferred to a “re­silient per­for­mance” by food and drink ex­porters. “Mar­ket and trade in­sights sug­gest the global de­mand for Ir­ish food and drink will re­main pos­i­tive in 2019 but, of course, the po­ten­tial im­pact of Brexit is a very sig­nif­i­cant risk,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Bord Bia’s lat­est re­port, the State’s largest ex­port cat­e­gories, meat and dairy, which ac­count for two-thirds of to­tal ex­ports, re­mained sta­ble last year. Dairy was the strong­est per­former in terms of ex­port growth, with vol­umes up 5 per cent and the value of such ex­ports ex­ceed­ing €4 bil­lion for the se­cond year in a row. But­ter put in a par­tic­u­larly good per­for­mance with ex­ports ex­ceed­ing €1 bil­lion for the first time.

Cheese ex­ports

More than 50 per cent of Ire­land’s cheese ex­ports – of which 83 per cent is ched­dar – is des­tined for the UK. How­ever, the per­cent­age of ex­ports des­tined for mar­kets out­side of the UK and con­ti­nen­tal Europe rose to 22 per cent last year from 17 per cent in 2010.

The value of meat and live­stock ex­ports rose 1 per cent to just un­der €4 bil­lion in 2018, the fig­ures show, while the value of seafood ex­ports de­clined by 8 per cent to €562 mil­lion, pri­mar­ily due to re­duced quo­tas in mack­erel and de­creased pro­duc­tion of farmed salmon.

“Last year was an ex­tra­or­di­nary year of in­sta­bil­ity, how­ever the Ir­ish food and drink ex­porters con­tin­ued to grow busi­ness through the un­cer­tain en­vi­ron­ment. To ex­ceed ex­port val­ues of €12 bil­lion for a se­cond year run­ning, and reach new record lev­els in terms of vol­ume, is hugely im­pres­sive,” said Bord Bia chief ex­ec­u­tive Tara Mc­Carthy.

Ir­ish Farm­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Joe Healy said the de­cline in the value of ex­ports un­der­lined the price pres­sures on farm­ers and re­in­forced the im­por­tance of the UK mar­ket and the dan­gers that a hard Brexit holds for those work­ing in the agri-sec­tor.

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