Brexit: Sharp reaction to UK threat favouring Brazilian beef over Irish

Coveney rejects Fianna Fáil claim of inertia over risk to UK exports valued at €1.25bn

The Tánaiste has insisted that the Government and European Union will support Irish farmers following UK threats to import Brazilian beef on a tariff-free quota basis in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Simon Coveney said the Government was "more than aware" of the pressures facing the beef sector when Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary highlighted reports that Britain's food and rural affairs secretary Michael Gove said he was considering introducing non-tariff quotas of Brazilian beef.

Mr Calleary said the Irish beef sector was worth €5.25 billion a year and 52 per cent of its imports go to the UK, putting €1.25 billion of the economy “at peril”, if Britain s prepared to favour the import of Brazilian beef over Irish produce.

He said farmers were awaiting “clarity” on the issue as he accused the Government of inaction.


Mr Calleary said the beef industry in particular was already under great pressure, with farmers getting the lowest factory prices in the EU and much lower than UK farmers. He claimed the Government had an attitude that “it will be alright on the night”.

Mr Coveney rejected the claims and insisted during Dáil leaders’ questions that “this Government will not be found wanting” and would support farming to ensure it survives through a Brexit transition period in the event of no deal. Significant funds would be available and a relaxation of state aid rules to support vulnerable sectors in the event of no deal.

He said the department had looked at the worst case scenario and there had been discussions with the European Commission and agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan. A commitment had been given that farmers would be supported during a transition.

Call for ‘clarity’

There are 130,000 farms in the State of which 100,000 are involved in beef production and between 60,000 and 70,000 got all their income from beef. “When it comes to agriculture beef is the most important issue.”

When Mr Calleary said farmers needed “clarity” on the matter the Taoiseach said they could not provide “absolute clarity and certainty” when the other party, the UK, could not provide certainty either.

The Tánaiste said they had heard “various rumours at different stages coming out of the UK. At one point I was being informed that the UK government were going to look at no tariffs at all. Then we see Michael Gove making announcements that he intends to impose WTO tariffs for agri-food and then on top of that we’re being told that within certain sectors like beef there will be tariff free quotas for certain volumes.

If they used WTO rules they would have to treat Ireland and the EU in the same as other countries and then the only difference would be the quality of the beef.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times