Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton have met with agriculture stakeholders to provide assurance that they will act in the industry's best interests during negotiations on leaving the EU.
The Ministers listened intently to the concerns of representatives including the Ulster Farmers’ Union, NI Meat Exporters Association, NI Grain Trade Association and Dairy UK, and assured them that it was their priority to keep business and the industry moving forward. They were keen to stress that all current arrangements around business, trade and travel remain in place and that the Executive will move to ensure Northern Ireland's interests are properly protected during future negotiations. The Ministers added that they recognised the valuable contribution agriculture makes to society and the economy, and that they would work with their Executive colleagues and senior officials to establish overarching and individual departmental working groups looking at all aspects of the referendum.
Speaking after the meeting, Minister McIlveen said: “The outcome of the referendum vote will undoubtedly cause change for farmers and processors within Northern Ireland. It is only right that we take our time to agree our new relationship with the EU. For now it is very much business as usual.
“I plan to lead this industry forward to ensure that farmers and processors are not disadvantaged by leaving the European Union. Just because we will be out of the EU does not mean that we will not be trading with the EU. To that end I want to ensure that we retain a strong relationship with Europe, and in particular our neighbour, the Republic of Ireland. I want to make sure we get the best deal possible for the industry in Northern Ireland."
After hearing concerns from stakeholders around EU support for farmers and rural communities, European and cross-border trade and freedom of movement, Miss McIlveen said her department is establishing a senior team to consider the potential implications and opportunities for the agri-food industry. She said this team would liaise with their counterparts in London to ensure the best deal for Northern Ireland and she added that the Executive is determined that Northern Ireland's unique circumstances would be considered as future arrangements are devised.
“I want to see an arrangement where our local companies have a free trade agreement that allows them to continue to access markets in Europe that they are currently supplying. I will be having discussion with Whitehall, the European Union and the Republic of Ireland to ensure that the rights of Northern Ireland farmers are protected. We as an industry need to prepare for the discussions that are ahead of us,” she added.
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said: “The Executive has received assurances from the Prime Minister that Northern Ireland will be given its place in future talks which commence later this year. We will act in the best interests of Northern Ireland to ensure the industry is able to thrive. Whilst there will undoubtedly be change, we are presented with many opportunities. I am determined to work closely with Minister McIlveen to ensure that our agri-food industry flourishes as a central driver to our economy."
Earlier in the day Minister McIlveen spoke at a Livestock and Meat Commission’s (LMC) event and reassured the beef and sheep industry of her continued support through the process of leaving Europe.
Notes to editors:
1. The Ministers met with Barclay Bell (UFU), Campbell Tweedie (NIMEA), Declan Billington (NIGTA), Robin Irvine (NIGTA), Tony O'Neill (AFSB) and Mike Johnston (Dairy UK).
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