Irish consumers could face food shortages if Brexit leads to hard borders and trade tariffs. That is according to Love Irish Food - which represents a range of food brands that manufacture their products in this country.
Economist Jim Power, who is chairman of the group, said that while Ireland is a net exporter of food the recent bad weather has shown just how easily the supply chain can be affected. "During the snow event in early March we saw how fragile the food supply chain is," he said. "A couple of days of heavy snow and suddenly the shelves were empty."
Mr Power said that Ireland imports a lot of food from Britain - or via Britain - which would be considered everyday items to many shoppers. "For example 70% of yogurt we consume in this country is imported, 98% of biscuits and over 40% of chicken fillets come from the Netherlands, mainly through the land bridge of the United Kingdom," he said.
If there is a hard border or trade tariffs the flow of that is reduced, which will have an effect on a number of different product types. "There's a lot of stuff that comes in, a lot of that is fresh, a lot of it is fresh ingredients for food production here and if we have a hard Brexit, suddenly that flow of food into the country starts to become a lot more difficult," the economist stated.
If food firms face higher costs and delayed, they may even decide to abandon the Irish market altogether, as it may be deemed to small to be worth the bother. There is a relatively easy solution to all of this - which is for Ireland to try to replace its British imports with products from other EU countries. Meanwhile direct shipments between mainland Europe and Ireland could also negate the need to use Britain as a bridge between the two sides. "There are solutions to all of these things but the real problem is for the industry and for those people who import food into the country, we've no idea what the outcome is going to be," Mr Power said, adding that this is a worst case scenario for the food industry in Ireland. "It could turn out to be a better outcome but I think we need to plan for the worst possible eventuality and see what we can do about that."
Major problems tend to offer major opportunities, however, and in this instance the potential of Ireland being cut off from British goods could allow local producers to fill the void. "Import substitution is obviously the opportunity," Mr Power said. "Stuff we are currently importing, either directly from or through the UK, we should be trying to produce it here," he added.
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