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The threat of Brexit eased somewhat for beef farmers back on December 24 as a late trade deal was agreed. This meant that our beef exports to the UK, which are our largest net importers of Irish beef, will avoid heavy tariffs imposed by the World Tariff Organization (WTO) rules.
However, this does not mean that the Irish beef sector will not be impacted from the loss of our British neighbours from the EU.
On this week’s Teagasc Beef Edge podcast, Dr. Kevin Hanrahan, who is head of the rural economy and development programme at Teagasc, revealed that a level of uncertainty will still remain for the beef sector until the second half of 2021.
Speaking on the podcast, Kevin stated: “There are going to be changes that meat processors are going to have to deal with in terms of custom checks, veterinary certs and export declarations as they ship beef products into the UK.
A key issue is how the UK will implement regulations on the importing of beef products. This may impact really important trade flows for products such as minced beef and minced beef products into Great Britain.
“The UK may adopt an EU style of approach – which insists these type of beef products have to be frozen if they are not muscle.
“This will be an issue for the industry as there is very good relationship with providing the food service industry such as McDonalds and Burger King that could be disrupted.”
‘Facing a cliff edge’
Kevin went on to speak about how the sector will be facing another cliff edge this year as the UK announces its custom regulations. Although, it will not be as major as what could have occurred if a no-trade deal was in place on January 1. He explained:
“The UK has stated that it will be ready to impose all of its customs checks and regulations from July of this year. The EU is already imposing its checks at ports and Ireland is also doing checks at Rosslare and Dublin ports.
At the moment the feared chaos is not happening yet because it is early in the year and a lot of loads are not leaving the factories because they know that they haven’t got all of the documentation figured out yet.
“If the UK implement its customs checks that it says it is going to do by the middle of the year, there will be additional documents to get into the UK. To what extent of that goes seamlessly, which I suspect it won’t, will be a challenge for the sector.”
Exports to the UK set to decline
Commenting on the high percentage of beef exports currently travelling to the UK market from Ireland, Kevin stated how he expects these levels to decline over time. He reiterated the need to source new markets for Irish beef exports.
“We need to start sourcing markets both within the EU and outside the EU that we can ship beef products to, which is profitable both at a farm level and a meat processing level.”
Kevin was also posed a question about the UK market being flooded with cheap beef imports from other countries. He stated:
“One thing that the pro-Brexit UK politicians have been boasting about when leaving the EU is its [the UK] ability to do trade deals with other countries. It has ambitions to do trade deals with large agricultural exporters such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the US.
In these trade deals, these countries will be looking for access for its [the UK] agricultural exports and food products which the UK may have to agree to.
“Irish beef exporters will find themselves competing with these countries and down the road there may be beef supplies from Mercosur countries as well.
“This will be a disadvantage for Irish beef exports and ultimately Irish beef exporters,” Kevin concluded.