I am very conscious of the role played by the beef sector in sustaining the rural economy and rural communities across Ireland.
I am aware of the current challenges facing beef farmers, with a sustained period of low prices, following on from additional costs last year arising from the unprecedented weather events.
I am deeply committed to fully supporting and developing Ireland’s beef sector. I am strongly of the view that the existing range of supports available to suckler farmers, including targeted supports under the BDGP and BEEP schemes; together with my Department's work to ensure access to as many markets as possible, both for live animals and beef exports, are appropriate for the continued development of the sector.
Brexit also presents enormous challenges and ongoing uncertainty for the entire beef sector. I and my officials have been working very hard for quite some time to sensitise other Member States and the European Commission to the potentially very severe impacts of a no-Deal Brexit on the Irish agri-food and fisheries sector. This has included a detailed analysis of the possible impact of the proposed UK tariff schedule in the event of a no-Deal Brexit, as announced by the UK Government on 13 March.
The schedule announced by the UK provides for zero-rated tariffs in a range of areas including fruit and vegetables, live animals and all products exported to Northern Ireland. However, the UK has indicated that it will impose tariffs on sensitive products, including beef.
I have emphasised that specific supports would be required in order to deal with these negative impacts. The threat faced by the Irish agri-food and fisheries sector is explicitly recognised in the Commission’s own communication on contingency planning.
I have held a series of bilateral discussions with Commissioner Hogan on this issue, including en marge of the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels last week. I stressed the need to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on farmers and processors, including through traditional market supports and the exceptional aid provisions under the CAP's Single Common Market Organisation regulation, as well as increased flexibility under State Aid regulations. Commissioner Hogan has reiterated the EU’s readiness to respond and support Ireland, and we will remain in contact on these issues as the situation evolves.
The terms and conditions of any aid package will be announced in due course, in the event that a disorderly Brexit occurs. Obviously I very much hope that this outcome, with all its associated negative impacts for Ireland, the EU and the UK itself, will be avoided by the acceptance by the UK Parliament of the Withdrawal Agreement.