Food Drink Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the food and drink industry, has launched a new report highlighting the main strategic challenges and opportunities to be considered by policymakers over the next 10 years. With one in eight jobs in the Irish economy now linked to the domestic food and drink industry, sustaining growth for the sector can help boost the growth of the wider economy.
The industry’s competitiveness has declined at a time when both opportunities and challenges are increasing. From a competitive standpoint, Irish infrastructure costs such as labour, energy, waste, environment and other business compliance and regulatory costs are significantly out of step against many of the EU competitor markets. Costs in general facing the sector have increased by 11% from their trough in 2011 with half of those increases coming in the past two years. Combined with the sharp depreciation of sterling since 2015, there has been a 30% increase in the cost of serving the UK market.
A hugely important measure to mitigate the risks and challenges faced by the sector is to implement policies to control our cost base whilst providing support for companies to innovate and improve both productivity and sustainability.
Some of the recommendations outlined in the report include:
• Increase funding for enterprise-led skills development, open up the Employment Permit system to food processing operatives and increase the focus on automation and digitalisation.
• Support an ambitious EU trade agenda that promotes trade both at multilateral and bilateral levels to secure additional market access in strategic growth markets at similar tariff levels to competitors.
• Ensure a strong focus on nationally funded research and development and involvement in transnational networks such as the EU’s Horizon programme.
• An effective implementation of the Climate Action Plan with financing supports for abatement measures as well as sustainable packaging supports.
• Provision of the necessary resources to maintain our world class food safety regime.