Ireland’s South East can boast of a strong and vibrant food sector, with market leading companies including Glanbia, Dawn Meats and Flahavan’s. Dungarvan has also marketed itself as a leading ‘foodie’ destination and the city continues to make welcome strides in this key area of the hospitality industry.
However, legitimate fears remain about how a potentially ‘hard’ Brexit will affect our major food firms in two years’ time.
A London-based business man from Waterford told us recently that the Irish Government needs to do more than have seminars about Brexit: it needs to hire staff to go out and sell Irish products in Europe and Asia, which may become surplus to a more constrained UK market.
Questions over how much the Irish Government has or hasn’t done in relation to Brexit remain, yet, as Maynooth University Professor John O’Brennan recently claimed that allegations of under preparedness for Brexit “demonstrates often extreme ignorance of the EU governance architecture and the formal and informal spaces in which engagement among EU member states takes place”.
Even taking that into account, there is still a need to aggressively build an expanded post-Brexit market beyond the UK so that the worst possible scenario can – and will – be avoided. We have great food products and our reputation remains strong in countries such as France and Germany.
As Prof O’Brennan has also pointed out, “far from being viewed as a surrogate of Britain, Ireland has charted a completely autonomous course in the Council of Ministers in Brussels through cooperating with our nearest neighbour on a range of (though far from all) policy issues”.
We also need Government-backed salesmen/women representing small firms and Irish farm producers to sell in even greater quantities to the EU market, as well as into major markets in China and Taiwan, where there’s expanding spending power, a growing middle class and an appreciation of high quality Irish produce.
We have the best dairy and beef products in the world. Fact. We can sell them beyond the UK. Fact. We will continue to sell a considerable level of produce in the UK. Fact. But we also have a duty to look beyond our next door neighbour with a greater level of intensity than ever before. Fact. We need to do this. We have to do this.
We also need major sales action and our best feet forward when it comes to asserting our true economic independence from our old colonial ruler and we need to be ready for Brexit. And we need to do what we can to safeguard our agri-food sector.
In previous decades, cattle were sold to Libya and Egypt, which helped beef farmers. Purcell’s in Waterford fared well from such trade, and we will need to channel that entrepreneurial spirit to further embed ourselves into the Chinese and Japanese markets.
The marketing of third level education also needs to be re-invigorated as part of that effort to promote ourselves as the only EU Member State in which English is the predominantly spoken language.
We sincerely hope the State is not asleep at the wheel, and that Michel Barnier will recognise our special situation in relation to Brexit. Of course we need to talk about what lies beyond Brexit, but we need to act about it right now.