I fully recognise the potential difficulties that may arise in the agri-food and fisheries sectors from the Brexit vote. These sectors are of critical importance to our economy given their regional spread and the fact that they underpin the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular. I am determined to safeguard the interests of these vital sectors.
My Department and its agencies have conducted various analyses of the likely impact of Brexit on the agri-food sector. These analyses range from initial and ongoing internal departmental assessments to published work by Teagasc and Bord Bia. This is an ongoing process, and will continue through extensive consultation with stakeholders via the Department's Stakeholder Consultative Committee and through the All-Island Civic Dialogue process, in respect of which I have already hosted five agri-food and fisheries sectoral dialogues.
While the main impact to date of the Brexit vote has been the effect of sterling volatility on those businesses that have a significant trading relationship with the UK, the medium to long term threats include the possible introduction of tariffs on trade between the EU and UK, potential divergences in regulations and standards between the EU and UK post-Brexit, and the implications of border controls and certification requirements. Difficult challenges also arise in relation to potentially restricted access to fishing grounds and resources.
In response to the challenges posed, I have undertaken a number of important steps within my own Department, which include the establishment of a dedicated Brexit Unit and a Brexit Response Committee to prepare for, monitor and respond to developments as required. As referred to earlier, I have also created a Stakeholder Consultative Committee, which is complemented by frequent contact with representative organisations and companies on an ongoing basis, and operates in parallel to the separate consultation structures under the All-Island Civic Dialogue.
Last October, as part of Budget 2017, I announced a range of measures aimed at alleviating exchange rate volatility pressures. These included the ‘Agri Cashflow Support' loan fund of €150 million, enhanced taxation measures, and the allocation of additional funding to Bord Bia in order to ensure that it is in a position to provide Brexit-related supports to affected companies, including its new Brexit Barometer. I also provided for increased funding under the Rural Development Programme and Seafood Development Programme.
I have also held a series of bilateral meetings with my EU counterparts which are aimed at building alliances to ensure that agri-food and fisheries issues are at the top of the EU negotiation agenda. I have been getting a sense of the importance of Brexit for other Member States, and of the degree to which they could support Ireland’s efforts to have these issues specifically and adequately taken account of in the negotiations.
In all of these engagements I am making clear our demand for continued unfettered access to the UK market, without tariffs and with minimal additional customs and administrative procedures, as well as keeping the UK market viable for Irish producers by minimising the risk from UK trade agreements with third countries. In relation to fisheries, Ireland wants to maintain current access to fishing grounds in the UK zone in the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and north of Donegal, and to protect our quota share for joint fish stocks
I wish to assure the House that the Government remains very focused on supporting the agri-food industry through the challenges ahead. I will continue to consult with the industry as the negotiations develop, and press Ireland's case for continued free access to the UK market, without tariffs and with minimal additional customs and administrative procedures.
In relation to the recent UK election, I think it is too early to make any definitive judgement on what impact the result may have on the UK’s approach to Brexit. We have to work on the basis of the information available to us at any point in time, including that coming from the UK Government itself. We have prepared extensively and those preparations are ongoing, and I think we will be ready to respond as appropriate to developments as the negotiation process unfolds.