The Northern Ireland Assembly should be given the power to decide how many non-UK EU migrants will be allowed to work in the country’s agri-food industry after Brexit, according to the report published on Wednesday (November 17).
It also recommended that non-UK EU nationals working in Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry must receive reassurances, as quickly as possible, about being allowed to remain in the UK. About 11,500 non-UK EU nationals currently work in Northern Ireland’s food and drink processing sector, the report revealed.
NIFDA chairman Declan Billington said Brexit had important implications for the food and drink industry. He said: “Both the [Brexit] challenges and opportunities are extensive. They need to be resolved in a way that allows us to tap into the potential for success that exists.
‘Potential for success’
“Successful resolution is not exclusively dependent upon the outcome of trade negotiations with Europe, but also on how we reposition our industry to service the food market both in the UK and globally.”
Following June’s historic Brexit vote, NIFDA said the UK government must secure a free trade deal within the EU. Failing that, it should seek a transition plan for introducing tariffs, so as to avoid short-term shocks for food and drink manufacturers.
If a hard Brexit was adopted, the price of beef, cheese and butter could rise by 56%, 58% and 47% respectively after the introduction of tariffs, NIFDA said. The organisation called for the UK government to support the rapid expansion of Northern Ireland food and drink manufacturing, should these trade barriers arise.
The report also recommended that free travel between the UK and the Republic of Ireland was maintained. It said that moving goods across the border with customs controls or “burdensome bureaucracy”, would mean making manufacturers less efficient.
A quarter of Northern Ireland’s food and drink processing sales came from exports to the EU in 2014 – £1.15bn of £4.5bn. About a third of food firms said the Brexit vote had a high impact on their capital expenditure, and almost half said it would be “extremely difficult” to find alternative markets to the EU, according to NIFDA.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland firm Mash Direct won two Food Manufacture Excellence Awards this month, at the Venice-themed gala dinner on November 2. The ready meals and prepared vegetable supplier won the coveted overall Food Manufacture company of the year, and the Chilled, fresh and dairy manufacturing company of the year.
NIFDA’s Brexit report – at a glance
- Northern Ireland Assembly should be empowered to decide how many non-UK EU nationals are allowed to work in food industry
- Future non-UK EU national workers to be decided on industry’s regional needs
- Secure status of non-UK EU nationals working in Northern Ireland food and drink manufacturing
- Transition plan for introducing tariffs
- Free travel between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland