A study of the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the EU’s agri-food industry has claimed that beef and cheese exports from Ireland to the UK could collapse by up to 90% with the loss of over 3,500 jobs.
The report by a food industry organisation says cheese exports to the UK could fall by 89%, while beef and other meats would fall by 88% and 76% respectively.
Revenues for the beef sector could fall by €732 million, with a fall of €325 million for the cheese sector.
The study into how a hard Brexit would affect food and drink imports to the UK from six EU countries was commissioned in March 2017 by a European food lobby, FoodDrinkEurope, but its findings have not been published.
However, the report, which has been seen by RTÉ News, highlights the scale of disruption a no-deal scenario could cause to the European agri-food industry if the current single market trade flows were replaced overnight by WTO tariffs.
The authors of the study, carried out by FTI Consulting, looked at the impact of a hard Brexit on the French and Irish cheese sectors, the Irish beef and "other meat" industries, as well as Italian wine and pasta producers, German bread and cake exporters and Belgian chocolate makers.
The report does not look at the impact of non-tariff barriers, such as food safety and animal health controls, nor does it explore the effect of tariffs on UK exports or inputs to the EU.
Meat and cheese are disproportionately hit the hardest by the WTO tariff effect, the study found.
The price of French and Irish cheeses being sold to the UK could rise by 58% and 56% respectively under WTO tariffs, while Irish beef prices could rise by 54%.
By contrast, Italian pasta and Dutch vegetables would be hit by price increases of 20% and 17% respectively.
French wine exports to the UK would be modestly hit, with a tariff-related price increase of 4%.
However, the impact on export volumes could be significant.
Consignments of French wine could fall by 17%, while exports of Belgian chocolates could fall by 31%.
Italian wine exports to the UK could also fall by 33%.
In a letter to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, FoodDrinkEurope, alongside other pan-European agri-food organistations, called for urgent measures in the event of no deal to safeguard two-way food supplies.
"The agri-food sector is certainly one of the sectors most impacted by Brexit, due to its complex highly integrated supply chains, its just-in-time processing and its dependence on perishable products," the letter said.
"In 2017, EU27 exports of agri-food products to the UK amounted to €41 billion while the UK exports to the EU27 reached €17 billion. To mitigate the damage of a no-deal Brexit on the food supply chain, the agri-food chain calls on the EU Institutions to adopt unilateral contingency measures specific to this sector."
In its report on no-deal contingency planning on 13 November, the European Commission said Ireland was the most affected member state, and that the EU would provide financial and other support, especially in the agri-food sector.
The issue was raised in a meeting between the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Ireland’s EU Commissioner Phil Hogan in Brussels on Wednesday, while the Minister for Agriculture last week presented Mr Hogan with details of the potential impact on Ireland, saying that overall tariffs on Irish product could be up to €1.7 billion per annum.
EU officials say Brussels would respond with a range of measures if there was a no-deal Brexit, including intervention, aids for storage and "exceptional measures", such financial support direct to the government to be used to offset farm losses.
Sources have drawn comparisons with support for vulnerable member states after Russia banned the import of agri-food products in the wake of the invasion of Crimea.
"Public intervention would be one measure," says one EU source.
"After the Russian ban we intervened by buying 380,000 tonnes of skimmed milk powder, and we have since released all of that back on to the market."
Brussels would not put a figure on what support could be available for Irish food producers in a no-deal situation, saying it would depend on the choices the UK makes on Brexit day, and whether or not it decides to impose tariffs on EU products.
"We don’t know yet what the full impact of Brexit is going to be because we don’t know the circumstances in which the UK is going to leave and what the consequences of those circumstances will be," says a source.
"So it is premature to talk about specific measures, and what kind of budget would be put in place to support those measures."