Sarah Collins

EU agri-food operators are clamouring for extra aid as the clock ticks down to cliff-edge Brexit.

They have written to the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, to push for special customs, product labelling, road haulage and market intervention measures that would kick in for 18-24 months after March 29, if the EU and UK fail to reach a final Brexit deal.

Farmers’ federation Copa and Cogeca, the European Liaison Committee for Agricultural and Agri-Food Trade (CELCAA) and industry grouping FoodDrinkEurope say that existing EU contingency measures “will not prevent significant disruption of supply chains in case of no-deal”.

“The impact of a no-deal will be immediate and harsh, therefore the EU agri-food chain is asking that the Commission be ready to act,” the letter says. “There is therefore an urgent need for time-limited EU contingency measures to decrease business risks associated with a no-deal Brexit and the UK must be encouraged to ensure reciprocity.” They want “unilateral contingency measures” for the agri-food sector, including temporary fast-track customs procedures, mutual (EU and UK) recognition of food safety and phytosanitary standards, a grace period on product labelling and a rollover on haulier licences.

They are asking the Commission to help producers with geographically protected products (such as Parma ham or Irish Cream liqueur) to transfer their products to the UK’s general trade mark system or any future UK scheme.

And they want budgetary support to cope with market disruptions, including “Emergency Brexit Funds”, private storage aid and trade promotion grants.

After meeting the Taoiseach last week, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker promised to “step up our preparation for a no-deal scenario” to deal with the “specific challenges that Ireland and Irish citizens, farmers and businesses will face”.

EU officials refuse to go into detail about those “specific challenges” and any counter-measures that will be available to Ireland, and confirm only that “intensive talks” are ongoing on the matter.