Overall food exports were up 2% on 2015, with the fall in UK exports offset by 13% growth in international markets such as North America, China and the rest of Asia, Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board said.
According to Bord Bia estimates, the underlying weakness and volatility of sterling negatively affected the competitiveness of Irish exports, reducing the value of trade by a potential €570M (£500M).
The fall underlined the importance of market access post-Brexit, an Irish government minister said.
The development came as US president-elect Donald Trump suggested Brexit was “going great”, in an interview with The Times on Sunday (January 15).
Trump claimed the UK was “so smart in getting out” of the EU, and indicated that the UK would not be at the “back of the queue” to negotiate a trade deal with the US – as predicted by outgoing president Barack Obama – in an interview with The Times on Sunday (January 15).
Volatility and uncertainty
However, Michael Creed, the Irish minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, claimed the UK referendum on Brexit had led to “currency volatility and uncertainty”.
This challenge, together with weakness in some commodity prices, highlighted the importance of market access, of identifying market opportunities for value added products and of continued investment in innovation and competitiveness, he said.
“The UK will continue to be a critically important market for Irish agri-food products. The triggering of Article 50 and the continued uncertainty around Brexit will present significant challenges for the sector.
“However, the 2016 export figures illustrate clearly the importance of collaborative action by [the Irish] government, its agencies and the industry, and the potential for pro-active effort on international markets to mitigate the risks associated with these challenges,” Creed added.
According to Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects 2016-2017 report, 2016 marked the seventh successive year of growth of Irish food and drink exports, equal to €3.3bn of growth since 2010.
Strongest performing sectors
The strongest performing sectors last year were prepared foods, worth €1.92bn and up 9%, beverages, valued at €1.4bn with a 4% increase, and dairy product and ingredients, worth €3.38bn, up 2%.
“One of the notable features of this achievement is the impact of market diversification in the year in which the UK decided to leave the EU,” said Creed.
“While trade with the UK fell by 8%, this was offset by increased exports to international and emerging markets such as North America, China and the rest of Asia.
“An overall increase of 13% in shipments to international markets, to reach a value of approximately €3.5bn, was particularly remarkable,” he added.
Irish food and drink exports to China have increased six-fold in six years, while exports to North America and the Rest of Asia have doubled in the same period.
“The fact that your pound sterling has gone down? Great. Because business is unbelievable in a lot of parts in the UK, as you know. I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing.”
On a US/UK trade deal:
“I’m a big fan of the UK, we’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides. I will be meeting with [Theresa May]. She’s requesting a meeting and we’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and . . . we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”
On the future of the EU:
“People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But, I do believe this, if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it . . . entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back . . . I believe others will leave.”
Source: The Times