Category: farming
Updated: 13/02/17 : 12:06:25

Brexit :: ICOS calls for recognition of ‘Irish Milk’

 Martin Keane, President, Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS)
“Without A firm continuation of north-south trade, there would be inestimable damage to the fragile rural economies in the border counties of Ireland” – ICOS

At a meeting with members of the EU Commission’s Brexit negotiating team, including those responsible for agricultural and Irish affairs within the upcoming talks, ICOS made the following submissions relating to Irish co-operatives.  The ICOS delegation was led by President Martin Keane, CEO TJ Flanagan and European Affairs Executive Alison Graham.

ICOS represents over 130 co-operatives in Ireland – including the Irish dairy processing co-operatives and livestock marts – whose associated businesses have a combined turnover in the region of €14 billion, with some 150,000 individual members, employing 12,000 people in Ireland, and a further 24,000 people overseas.

ICOS raised the issue that Brexit poses a huge number of challenges for Irish cooperatives, as key forces within the Irish agri-food industry, due to strong trade links with the UK and business structures which span north and south of Ireland.  ICOS said that its priority for the negotiations is to ensure that these deep trading ties and the integrated all-island agricultural economy are recognised and facilitated in the outcome of the discussions.

Discussing the timeline, the Commission hope that, should UK Prime Minister Theresa May trigger Article 50 by the end of March, as believed, they will begin the negotiations as soon as May 2017. They would then need to reach an agreement on the details of the “divorce” by October 2018, in order to allow 6 months for this agreement to be ratified by the Council and European Parliament as well as Westminster, in accordance with the two year timeline.

This “Brexit” negotiation will not include an agreement on market access terms following the UK’s departure from the EU. However it was confirmed that it will have some consideration for the future framework of EU-UK relations. It will also include a general timeline for the phasing out of EU policy and phasing in of new legal structures and arrangements.

Supply Lines

ICOS emphasised that it is vital for industry to be given sufficient time to prepare for the introduction of new customs arrangements and adjust their supply lines in response. New trading markets cannot be established overnight but need a number of years to be developed. Even then it would be impossible to get the same value added premium of the UK market elsewhere.   

In addition, we would need to differentiate our production processes, for example away from cheddar cheese, should UK market access be more restrictive and this would take many years and a lot of investment to achieve.

Therefore, ICOS called for the upcoming negotiations to secure a clear framework to allow  future market access terms that are as close as possible to the status quo, to avoid the disruption of trade - including full recognition of food safety systems and veterinary certifications as equivalent and maintaining duty free access to the market.

ICOS President Martin Keane said: “The Commission was very well informed on the issues facing Irish agri-businesses resulting from Brexit and had a deep understanding of the technical details of the trading relationships between the Republic and Northern Ireland.”

“ICOS shared with the Commission the view that practical solutions are needed to avoid the introduction of a physical border between the north and south of Ireland. We emphasised that, as much as possible, the negotiation of a new customs agreement with the UK must allow for the continuation of current north-south trade and co-ordination on issues such as animal health strategies, food chain traceability and so on.  It was highlighted that without this trade, there would be inestimable damage done to the fragile rural economies in the border counties of Ireland.


“One of the solutions ICOS proposed was for the recognition of “Irish Milk” as coming from the island of Ireland. Ideally this will allow for the continued trade of milk across the border, without being hindered by burdensome customs, SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures) and labelling regulations. This proposal was considered by the Commission with interest, although any agreement made on customs controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic must be agreeable to the other 26 EU member states.

“It is very clear that the Commission is well prepared heading into the negotiations to defend Irish interests, but also that this will be a very lengthy process. It will take a long number of years to settle the political details and in this time uncertainty itself will be a barrier to trade and investment”, said Keane.

ICOS also spoke about these challenges with colleagues from other cooperative organisations across Europe in Brussels today, within a meeting of the member organisations of Cogeca, the European association of agri-cooperatives. There was full recognition for the gravity of this challenge for all EU countries in terms of trade, CAP and other EU policies, such as climate emissions commitments and fisheries, as well as expressions of solidarity for Irish cooperatives.