Once the UK leaves the EU, negotiations on a future fisheries agreement as part of the overall future relationship, will be co-ordinated by Michel Barnier for the EU. These negotiations are expected to commence following the adoption of the EU negotiating mandate by the European Council. The negotiating mandate will follow from the Political Declaration, which states that within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.
The objective for the EU will be to maintain reciprocal access to waters and resources and agree a framework to ensure the sustainability of shared fisheries. This will need to be achieved through joint management so that the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainability are protected for EU and UK fishing industries.
I met with the new Fisheries Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevicius, on Tuesday to discuss these issues. I was impressed by his knowledge and understanding of the potential impacts of Brexit on the Irish and wider EU fishing fleets. We had an excellent discussion on the vital importance of ensuring that the fisheries negotiations remain inextricably linked with the wider future relationship negotiations, in accordance with the agreed political declaration.
Since the UK referendum, I have emphasised the necessity for a coordinated European response to ensure that there is a unity of purpose within the EU on fisheries. Ireland participates in talks with the EU27 and my officials and I have had intensive discussions with the European Commission, other relevant Member States and stakeholders regarding the potential negative impact of Brexit on the EU fishing industry and the wider seafood sector as whole. These discussions will intensify in the New Year.
The Government has already introduced a range of measures to deal with the short-term impacts of Brexit. In terms of dealing with the competitiveness issue, my Department introduced a €150 million low-cost loan scheme and increased funding under the Rural Development and Seafood Development Programmes in the 2017 Budget. In Budget 2018, I, along with my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, introduced a new €300 million “Brexit Loan Scheme” to provide affordable, flexible financing to Irish businesses that are either currently impacted by Brexit or who will be in the future – at least 40% of which will be available to agri-food and seafood businesses.
Our enterprise agencies are continuing to work with seafood companies around the country to help them to deal with Brexit through making them more competitive, diversifying market exposure, and up-skilling teams.
A disorderly departure, that included a loss of access to UK waters, would have very serious consequences for our seafood industry. While this is less likely in 2020 following recent developments in the UK, I will continue to ensure planning continues in the event that an agreement is not secured within the timeframe set.