One of the country’s main farming representative organisations has warned that Ireland’s view of Brexit cannot be anchored entirely to the issue of the border and that more attention should be paid to cross-channel trade.

The president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), Pat McCormack, said farmers and agri-food operators were becoming “anxious” regarding what it termed the weight of consideration being given to the border question, rather than the Ireland-UK ‘East-West’ trading relationships, which, he said, were “economically much more significant”.

Mr McCormack was speaking after a Bord Bia survey showed that a majority of Irish food and drinks companies continued to believe that they would have trade opportunities in the UK, despite Brexit.

Mr McCormack said that while he did not wish to appear pessimistic about the ultimate outcome of slow-moving Brexit negotiations, it was hugely important that confidence did not turn into a complacency that things would “work out in the end and that the interests of Irish farming and agri-food were being looked out for”.

Mr McCormack also argued that while the Irish Government had clearly prioritised the preservation of the no-border arrangement with the North, and enjoyed the solidarity of the commission on the issue, this emphasis “effectively prioritised the political over the economic”.

He added that while the Irish Government was perfectly entitled to follow that policy, “the net effect was that the centuries-old, multi-billion euro trade between Irish food producers and their British customers was relegated and often seemed, so far as the Irish focus was concerned, to be something of an afterthought to the ‘No Hard Border’ core policy”.

The ICMSA represents many farmers in the dairy sector, which comprises mostly full-time farmers and which is a sector of the agricultural community with much higher average income than their counterparts in areas such as beef and tillage.

In 2016, 30% of Northern Ireland’s exports — about €2bn — came south, whereas just 1% of the Republic’s exports, which still amounted to €1bn, went north,” said Mr McCormack.

“In other words, the north-south trading relationship is much, much more important from north-to-south, whereas, for the Republic, and very specifically for the Republic’s farming and food-production sectors, it is the west-east, Republic-to-Britain trading relationship that is our core economic concern.”

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