As I have said, the UK’s decision to leave the EU presents enormous challenges for the entire Irish agrifood sector, including beef where the UK accounts for some 50% of our exports. I, together with my Department, our agencies and stakeholders, have been carefully considering the potential impacts of the UK vote, looking at the areas in which the greatest risks may arise and on which we will need to focus when negotiations begin.
The uncertainty generated by the vote has had an immediate impact on sterling, even though the UK remains a full member state of the EU. The exit process will have implications for tariffs and trade, regulations and standards, customs controls and certification and, of course, the EU budget. The exit vote also raises complex issues for the fisheries sector.
Earlier this year, my Department published a summary of the key actions we are taking by way of immediate response to the UK’s decision. As I already outlined, a number of steps have been taken to ensure that a sensible and coherent approach is adopted. These include the establishment of a Brexit unit within the Department, the convening of a consultative committee of stakeholders and the establishment of a contact group under the auspices of the Food Wise 2025 high level implementation committee. The Department is also participating fully in the new sectoral work groups established by the Department of the Taoiseach, under the auspices of the interdepartmental group on Brexit, which in turn feeds into the new Cabinet committee on Brexit. The Department has chaired the first meeting of a special agrifood sub-group, which took place on 19 October.
As to the changes to euro-sterling exchange rates, a number of actions have been taken to try to mitigate these impacts. These include the provision of practical guidance to SMEs by Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland. The guidance covers areas such as managing volatility impacts, providing consumer and market insight, deepening customer engagement and extending market reach.
In addition, I announced a number of measures in budget 2017 that will financially underpin my Department's Brexit mitigation efforts through strategic investment in key areas of the Department, its agencies and the agrifood sector. This includes the €150 million loan we have just discussed.
The UK’s decision to leave the EU also reinforces the need to develop as many outlets for our agrifood products as possible, in order to minimise our dependence on any one market. As the Deputy knows, 40% of our total exports go to the United Kingdom. Therefore, we are considering new market opportunities. That is why in Food Wise 2025 we identified south-east Asia as a key market. The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, and I visited the region.
I am going to north Africa next week to look at new market opportunities, in particular live exports which might be beneficial to the current difficult trading situation in the sector, for example. These activities will continue into the future, as they play a key role in our efforts to provide as many markets as possible for Irish agrifood products.