Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has said that Brexit is placing a huge legislative burden on DAERA with 74 pieces of secondary legislation having to be scrutinised and passed by the end of the transition period of 31st December.
The West Tyrone MLA said:
“Brexit has presented major challenges for our 25,000 front-line farm families and the wider food and drinks trade. The sector here is already under major pressure with the COVID crisis and many other challenges.
“We export 87% of our agri-food produce so we need unfettered access east-west, north/south and across the EU.
“Sinn Féin is one of the most vocal opponents of Brexit, we are completely against it and this view is shared by the majority of people of the north who voted against Brexit in the referendum.
“However, the protocol is a way of grappling with a very bad situation. We, like all the parties here, are trying to do our best to make it as seamless and frictionless as possible for businesses, farmers and communities across the North.
“Brexit has a disproportionate impact in the north. The average disposable income here is £119 while in Britain, it is £215. Any friction that is caused by delays and any extra costs will have a disproportionate impact on consumers here compared to those across the water.
“200 lorries a day come from Britain to stock our shelves. The shelf life here is 12 to 18 hours shorter than in Britain. As such, Brexit poses a huge challenge to the entire food ecosystem here in the North.
“Farmers, processors and all of those involved in food and drink production have many unanswered questions. There are questions on what constitutes a qualifying good, unfettered access, how can businesses simultaneously manage two VAT regimes, tariffs, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks and, of course, labelling.
“We will have to create a new label for our produce here in the North. It takes four to five months to create a new label and that deadline has already lapsed.
“While Britain is our main market, we must realise that the British market will shift. As Britain cuts itself off from the EU, because of Brexit, it will extricate itself from the biggest market in the world unless an 11th hour free trade deal is struck.
“Combined with trade deals with the USA and other countries for cheap food, the floor could suddenly drop out of the British market and completely undermine our local producers. We must realise that Britain will not be the same market post-Brexit that it has been up until now.
“Our all-Ireland trade is hugely important in the agri-food sector. In terms of North/South and South/North, there is almost £2 billion trade in live animals and food per year, which is hugely significant.
“Within DAERA and the committee, a huge amount of bandwidth being taken up by Brexit related legislation. In the AERA Committee, we have 74 pieces of secondary legislation to scrutinise and pass before December, due to Brexit. That is going to put huge pressure on officials in the department, and indeed on our own committee, which will have to scrutinise and pass the legislation so that DAERA has a functioning rulebook come 31 December.
“Brexit is bad news for our local agriculture industry but implementation of the protocol is the only way that we can protect our north-south trade lines, retain access to the EU single market and mitigate against the worst effects of EU exit.
“It is important that a free trade deal is struck between Brussels and London and that DAERA, the Department of the Economy and the other departments works closely with the farming community to help them prepare for inevitable changes.”