We can only eat one out of ten bullocks

We can only eat one out of ten bullocks

Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, returns to the immediate challenges of Brexit in its “Statement of Strategy 2017-2020.” Although the figures are not new, they are very large and very frightening and we would do well not to forget them.

“Ireland is the 33rd largest exporter in the world and the UK is our single biggest trading partner. Total Irish merchandise exports in 2014 were valued at €92 billion, of which almost €13.6 billion were exports to the UK. Irish agri-food exports to the UK make up approximately one third of the country’s total merchandise exports to the UK. In 2014, total Irish merchandise imports were valued at €61 billion, of which almost €20.6 billion were from the UK. Of that, the agri-food imports were worth €4.5 billion.”

The report would have benefitted from a little close editing. The first use of ‘Brexit’ below clearly refers to the referendum vote: the second use seems to mean total British withdrawal from single market and customs union, a rather different matter.

“Outside of the impact on Sterling, which fell to a 30-year low on the back of the Brexit result, it is not clear how much trade can continue between Ireland and a UK outside the EU. Teagasc has estimated that a Brexit could mean a reduction in the value of Irish agri-food exports of anything from €150m (1.5%) to €800m (7.2%) per annum.”  Such terminological confusion is regrettable because we need all the clarity we can get. The next paragraph is utterly, frighteningly clear.

“Ireland exports over 90% of its beef output and nearly half of our exports in volume terms go to the UK. Brexit will affect all export sectors, but beef will be especially hard hit.”

Now read that paragraph again. When you see ten bullocks grazing in a field, we can only eat one of them – and we need the English to take four and a half of them. They don’t have to. Beef is a commodity.