I have been addressing the immediate Brexit challenges through a range of Budgetary measures aimed at improving competitiveness, and developing market and product diversification. These measures include a €150m low-cost loan scheme in 2017 to help reduce farm-gate business costs, and a dedicated €50m Brexit package in Budget 2018 which included further additional funding to Bord Bia and Teagasc as well as a contribution to a €300m (joint DAFM/DBEI) “Brexit Loan Scheme”, at least 40% of which is available to food businesses. In Budget 2019 I announced a €78m Brexit package for farmers, fishermen, food SMEs and to cover additional costs related to Brexit. My colleague, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, also announced the Future Growth Loan Scheme, which will be rolled out in 2019 and for which I had made provision of €25m in 2018. The scheme will provide long term, unsecured investment finance for farmers and small scale companies in the food and seafood sectors.
On market and product diversification, 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.
I and my officials have also been working very hard for quite some time to sensitise other Member States and the European Commission to the potentially very severe impacts of Brexit on the Irish agrifood and fisheries sectors, and to the likelihood of specific supports being required in order to deal with these impacts.
Most recently, I held a bilateral meeting with Commissioner Hogan last week to discuss the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the Irish agrifood and fisheries sectors. Commissioner Hogan reiterated the EU’s readiness to respond and support Ireland, and we will remain in contact on these issues as the situation evolves.
As regards contingency planning, my Department has been actively participating in the Whole-of-Government approach to preparedness and contingency planning. We have fed into the overall Government Contingency Action Plan which was published on 19 December, and we have been working very closely with colleagues in other Departments and agencies to address in particular the requirements that will arise in relation to the implementation at ports and airports of import controls on agrifood products coming from the UK.
These requirements are significant, and arise in relation to the carrying out of documentary, identity and physical checks on imports of animals, plants, and products of animal and plant origin, as set out in EU legislation.
Work in this regard has been focused on three key areas, namely, infrastructure, staffing and information technology, and in three key locations, that is Dublin Port, Rosslare Port and Dublin Airport.
Throughout all of this work, the focus of the Department will continue to be on the need to discharge its legal responsibilities while ensuring the minimum possible disruption to trade.