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
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.
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.
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.