Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has called on leaders in the Republic to support calls for the region's agri-food produce to be included in the EU's Free Trade deals.

The issue of mixed origin milk was raised in October when it was highlighted that around a third of the North's milk crosses the border for further processing. The result of that combined processing is that the milk then becomes a 'Mixed Origin Product'.

A large proportion of this is then traded internationally - some of which is sold through EU Free Trade Arrangements to 'Third Countries'.

Dairy processors are yet to publicly report issues but there remains concern within the industry.

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"With regard to cross-border trade, one of the issues that came up over and over again, after the Brexit decision was made by the people of the United Kingdom, was that of milk and the fact that we produce more milk than we process and the Republic of Ireland processes more milk than it produces," Minister Poots told MLAs on Tuesday (January 19).

"Consequently, milk is mixed, and once it is mixed, it cannot be unmixed. That is a significant problem.

What we are pressing for - and what we wish our Irish colleagues to assist us to press for - therefore, is that Northern Ireland be part of the free trade arrangements that exist within the European Union and European Union sales to third countries where those free trade arrangements are in place.

"It seems somewhat odd that we have been kept in the single market but are then disadvantaged by not being part of the free trade arrangements within that single market.

"There is common ground between us and the Irish Republic because their processors need those opportunities to sell to the Middle East, Far East and other places where those Free Trade Agreements exist."

'Barriers lead to problems'

Poots also said highlighted the impact of barriers in east to west trade.

"There are strong supply lines that currently come from Great Britain to, not just Northern Ireland, but Ireland," he said.

Barriers, consequently, lead to problems for both Northern Ireland and Ireland. It is important that we ensure that we do not have barriers, particularly, in an internal market.

"Therefore, work needs to continue at both a UK Government and European Union level to ensure that the barriers that are being proposed do not happen. Their consequences are significant."