Northern Ireland

EU Referendum: 'Threat to NI agriculture from cheap imports'

Declan Billington
Image caption Declan Billington chairs the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association and is also chief executive of animal feeds manufacturer John Thompson and Sons

Northern Ireland's agriculture industry could be threatened by cheaper South American imports following the Brexit vote, a leading businessman has said.

The claim was made by Declan Billington, who chairs the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association.

He said there may be pressure for market access, in exchange for the export of manufacturing goods.

He called on the Northern Ireland Executive to put a strategy in place to off-set the threat to the industry.

Mr Billington, who is also chief executive of animal feeds manufacturer John Thompson and Sons, was speaking on the BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Business programme.

"What we are talking about are scenarios. There is no black and white," he said.

"If we consider the UK market - it is a largely import market - and you would say 'great, that gives us an opportunity to supply that market'.

"If the quid pro quo of selling to South America manufactured goods is free access to our markets, you cannot compete on the cost basis they have.

"So suddenly, you find that the prices in the UK may fall. That's good for the consumer, but bad for those who are competing against foreign imports, and remember, the other markets we could go to may well have tariffs."

Mr Billington added: "I believe there is a threat and it's for our executive to work, in Northern Ireland, and for our industry to work across the UK, to make sure that it doesn't happen, to work to our strengths.

"That's about communicating the threats early so that policy can create opportunities and support growth that works for everyone, rather than be blind-sided by an event because you didn't think it through."

The UK electorate voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48% following the referendum held on 23 June.

Inside Business will be broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster at 18:30 BST on Monday 27 June.

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