The call was made in an open letter, signed by 35 representatives from across the industry – including Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director general Ian Wright – which sought tariff-free trade with Ireland.
Exports to Ireland grew 8% in 2016 to £3.34bn, exporting more from the UK than to the US, China, Russia, Brazil, Canada and Japan combined. Nearly one fifth of UK food and drink exports go to Ireland.
Industry representatives said barriers to trade would create significant economic damage to both the UK and Ireland.
Significant economic damage
“They would disrupt established supply chain networks that operate across the UK and Ireland and would cause significant economic damage, while adding to existing food price inflation faced by consumers,” said the letter.
“A cliff-edge scenario that results in a sudden transformation to our trading arrangements with Ireland would be hugely damaging for our industry and for the wider economy on both sides of the border.”
UK exports to Ireland
- UK exports to Ireland are worth £3.34bn
- Nearly one fifth of UK exports are to Ireland
- A third of Ireland’s exports are to the UK
- 80% of flour in Ireland comes from the UK
However, if new customs requirements could not be avoided, the coalition of food and drink industry representatives wanted robust plans put in place to minimise disruption to firms and provide time for them to adapt.
Difficulty entering the country
The loss of free trade between the UK and Ireland would also result in food from the EU and international sources encountering difficulty entering the country, claimed the letter.
This was due to food arriving via ports and supply chains from across the UK. The letter argued that this interdependence was essential to ensuring food security for both countries.
The letter supported Prime Minister Teresa May’s goal of creating a “frictionless border” between the UK and Ireland after Brexit. It stressed the importance of future border arrangements once Article 50 is triggered.
“Government should make a clear and early statement of principle that it is committed to maintaining this trade with Ireland and that it will make it a priority in negotiations,” the letter said.
UK trade with Ireland open letter – the 35 signatories
Ian Wright director general, Food and Drink Federation
David Caffall chief executive, Agricultural Industries Confederation
James Smith president, Association of Bakery Ingredient Manufacturers
David Camp chief executive, Association of Labour Providers
Kate Nicholls chief executive, Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers
Andy Tighe policy director, British Beer and Pub Association
Ufi Ibrahim chief executive, British Hospitality Association
Nick Allen chief executive, British Meat Processors Association
Richard Griffiths chief executive, British Poultry Council
Helen Dickinson chief executive, British Retail Consortium
Gavin Partington director general, British Soft Drink Association
Declan O’Brien director general, British Specialist Nutrition Association
Sam Jennings technical adviser, Council for Responsible Nutrition UK
Judith Bryans chief executive, Dairy UK
Gordon Polson director, Federation of Bakers
James Bielby chief executive, Federation of Wholesale Distributors
Andy Richardson chair, Food and Drink Wales Industry Board
Nigel Jenney ceo, Fresh Produce Consortium
Graham Keen executive director, Health Food Manufacturers’ Association
Liz Murphy ceo, International Meat Trade Association
Alex Waugh director general, National Association of British and Irish Millers
Bob Price director and policy adviser, National Association of Cider Makers
Terry Jones director general, National Farmers’ Union
Michael Bell executive director, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association
Conall Donnelly executive director, Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association
Dick Searle chief executive, Packaging Federation
Michael Bellingham chief executive, Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association
John Smith chief executive, Proprietary Association of Great Britain
Andrew Kuyk director general, Provision Trade Federation
Julie Hesketh-Laird acting ceo, Scotch Whisky Association
Simon Cripps chairman, Seasoning and Spice Association
Steve Morgan chair, UK Flavour Association
John Whitehead director, UK Food and Drink Exporters Association
Wesley Aston chief executive, Ulster Farmers Union
Miles Beale chief executive, Wine and Spirit Trade Association