The agrifood sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy, and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular. As such, Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on farmers and on the agrifood sector throughout Ireland, and the extent of this potential impact has been highlighted by studies carried out by agencies such as Teagasc, the Department of Finance, the Economic and Social Research Institute, Inter Trade Ireland and Copenhagen Economics.
In the event that there is disruption to Irish exports moving through the UK, I am informed that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has engaged with the shipping industry and has been advised that there is sufficient capacity within the industry should exporters using the UK wish to divert.
A considerable amount of work has also been put into intensifying our market diversification efforts in order to reduce our exposure to the UK market.
For example, the additional funding that I have provided to Bord Bia has been used, inter alia, to provide targeted advice to individual companies as well as to conduct a market prioritisation exercise which is now informing our approach to market diversification activities, including the choice of destinations for Trade Missions. Trade Missions play an important role in this regard, and I have been very active on this front in recent years as we strive to gain, and then develop, a presence in as many global markets as possible. I have led very successful missions to the Gulf Region, the US, Mexico, Japan and Korea in 2017, and to the US, Canada, China, Indonesia and Malaysia 2018. These missions included participants from across the agrifood sector and featured extensive trade contacts as well as high-level political discussions. These and the other missions that my Department has under consideration for 2019 will serve to enhance and improve our existing levels of market access in these destinations. Indeed, since the UK referendum I have increased Bord Bia’s funding by a total of €19.5 million, including a further €5 million allocated in Budget 2019.
Product diversification has also been supported through additional funding of €8.8 million to Teagasc to develop its National Food Innovation Hub, and funding to support investment in the prepared consumer foods sector.
My Department is also taking other direct, practical actions to support the sector’s market diversification efforts, for example through a seven-point Market Access Plan, which includes the allocation of more departmental resources to market access work, an online portal through which essential information across a wide range of markets can be centrally accessed. Such actions will continue to ensure delivery of high quality Irish agrifoods throughout the globe.