Carthy & McConalogue debate Brexit supports for Farmers and Small Businesses
During a Dáil debate with the Minister for Agriculture Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, queried the level of supports and preparation in place for farmers and small businesses upon the ending of the Brexit transition period.
Deputy Carthy raised the issues that will present to small agri-food business that export to and through Britain, claiming that many were unprepared and needed additional support from government.
The Sinn Féin TD commenced the Debate by asking the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the contingency measures he will put in place, including financial support, to support farmers and the agri-food sector to deal with the outworkings of Brexit from 1 January 2021.
Deputy Matt Carthy: We have been talking about the countdown to Brexit and we are now potentially within hours of knowing whether we dealing with a deal or a no-deal scenario. As the Minister knows, nobody is set to lose more than Irish farmers and the agri-food sector in the broadest terms. I would like the Minister to take this opportunity to convey to the House the contingency measures that his Department has been working on to protect that sector that is obviously of the utmost importance to our regions.
Minister Charlie McConalogue: I thank Deputy Carthy for the question. Whatever the outcome of the EU-UK future relationship negotiations, significant changes will take place from 1 January 2021. These will have considerable implications for the agri-food and fisheries sector and will require considerable adjustment, particularly for businesses trading with Great Britain. The focus of my Department has been on getting all sectors as ready as possible for all Brexit scenarios, with a key focus on protecting primary producers. For example, the work that has been done on infrastructure in ports and airports, increasing staffing resources, developing robust IT support systems and communications with stakeholders has been to ensure that we support the continuation of trade post transition and, by doing so, that we support farmers and the agri-food sector.
My Department has also ensured that financial and other support measures have been put in place over successive budgets to support farmers and the agri-food sector to deal with Brexit.
In addition, I secured in budget 2021 a total of €62 million for Brexit-related agri-food measures, and a new recovery fund of €3.4 billion will be available as required across all sectors of the economy to deal was the twin challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit. Furthermore, the EU budget agreement reached in July by Heads of State and Government includes a €5 billion Brexit adjustment reserve for those member states and sectors most affected by Brexit. We are working with colleagues across government to secure significant allocations from this fund. I am fully committed to protecting our farming and fishery sectors regardless of the outcome of Brexit and these sectors have done, and continue to do, a great deal for our economy. All my efforts are looking to protect our food producers in the time ahead.
We are working with our European colleagues and hoping that there will be a successful conclusion to the Brexit negotiations in the days ahead but we are prepared in regard funding and contingencies to support our farming and fisheries sectors, regardless of the outcome to those negotiations.
Matt Carthy: I thank the Minister for that reply. There are many varying and competing concerns for the agriculture sector in the event of a no-deal Brexit or a less than perfect Brexit deal. The biggest of those will be access to the British market.
I will ask the Minister about the exploration of other markets and, particularly, the importance of the land bridge and what will be put in place. There is a huge difficulty with regard to direct shipping and air transport to the rest of the EU. Air freight has increased dramatically in price recently and shipping capacity is also an issue. There are only approximately eight roll-on, roll-off sailings per week. Roll-on, roll-off is the preferred method of shipping transport for most businesses, including agri-food businesses. I would be interested in the Minister’s outlining how he will support getting Irish food into the wider EU market post-Brexit.
Charlie McConalogue: We have been working closely with all agri-food companies, and exporters in particular, to ensure they prepare for 1 January because, regardless of what happens in the next number of days, there will be significant changes from that date when Britain becomes a third country. For every company that exports to Britain, that will mean additional customs checks and, for the agri-food sector more than any other sector, there will be sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, checks as well, which will add additional administration and challenges to the logistics of exporting to Britain. Companies must prepare for that in the time ahead
On the land bridge, we have been engaging with the European Commission and Britain in every way we can in preparing for that. The fact that a deal has not been done yet poses a challenge in bringing final certainty to it but between now and 1 January we will continue to work with companies, our European colleagues and Britain to try to smooth those preparations.
Matt Carthy: Regarding exports, one way or another we need to find new markets and exploit the markets that are there. At a meeting of Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine an hour or so ago we learned that Ireland is the only significant exporter at EU level that does not provide export credit insurance. Is the Minister working with his counterparts in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to ensure that minimum step is taken? I would also like to hear of the Minister’s work with Revenue to ensure customs formalities are loosened and additional supports are provided to small agri-food businesses that need to get their product into Britain post-Brexit.
There is an issue of financial guarantees that have to come from third-party insurance or a bank. Many businesses, including some small agri-food businesses, do not have time to organise this for January. Some of them are not even aware of it. Will the Department be in a position to support those small agri-food businesses in that regard?
Charlie McConalogue: On supporting companies to prepare for the additional requirements in terms of customs and SPS, significant financial support has been put in place by the Government. In particular, there is a €9,000 grant for all businesses to avail of to ensure they have a member of staff in their company who will have knowledge, understanding and responsibility to prepare for customs checking.
The issue of export insurance is something on which my Department has engaged with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. We have been looking at what contingencies will be required in the eventuality of a deal or no deal. We hope it will be a deal. Funding has been put aside to back that up and we will engage in the time ahead with companies and the agri-food and marine sectors and support them to prepare for 1 January and the outcome of Brexit negotiations.