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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 Jun 1932

Vol. 42 No. 9

Customs Duties (Meat and Poultry) (Provisional Imposition) Order. - 1932—Motion of Approval. In Committee on Finance.

I move:—

That the Customs Duties (Meat and Poultry) (Provisional Imposition) Order, 1932, which was made on the 6th day of June, 1932, by the Executive Council under Section 1 of the Customs Duties (Provisional Imposition) Act, 1931 (No. 38 of 1931) and a copy of which was laid on the Table of Dáil Eireann on the 9th day of June, 1932, be approved.

It might surprise you, sir, to hear that I did not catch all that the Minister said.

Deputies might be anxious to know something about the figures of these imports during the last couple of years, in order that they might have some idea of the volume of business that is covered by this particular tariff. The imports of beef do not amount to a very substantial volume. In 1929 we imported 3,854 cwts., and that has been fairly constant during the years 1930 and 1931. The value, however, of the beef imports has gone down considerably, although the volume has remained the same. Under the heading of mutton, we have imported a little over 2,000 cwts. per year for the three years, amounting in value in 1931 to £7,381 for mutton and lamb.

Does that 2,000 cwts. cover both mutton and lamb?

Yes. In poultry and game our imports are not given with regard to weight, but, in value, they were £45,000 odd in 1929, £37,000 odd in 1930, and £39,000 in 1931, which would indicate, I believe, that the volume has gone up slightly during the three years, if we take into account the price at which poultry has been sold.

What does that cover? Does it cover game?

Poultry and game, yes. For the first three months of this year, however, as compared with the first three months of 1930 and 1931, the amount of imports have gone up considerably. Comparing the first three months, beef has increased from 938 cwts. to 1,385 cwts.; mutton and lamb have increased from 769 cwts. to 1,035 cwts., and poultry, in value, has increased from £8,270 to £9,060. Again, taking the price of poultry at the beginning of last year as compared with the price now, it would look as if the volume of imports of poultry has gone up considerably during the first three months of this year. The Executive Council had under consideration the imposition of this tariff for some time, but we were anxious to wait until we were sure that there was sufficient poultry and lamb in the country to supply our own needs, both for the present and during the time of the Eucharistic Congress. When we had come to the time when we were sure that we had a sufficient supply in the country, we applied this tariff. I do not know if there is anything else that Deputies would like to know about the relevant figures, but if there is I will endeavour to answer them.

I would like to ask the Minister what is the purpose of this tariff. It seems to me that there is a comparatively slight increase in imports, but a certain falling off in price, and I suggest, again, that this is raising the price of foodstuffs to the very poor, and perhaps the Minister will say something as to what the tariff is intended to achieve as a matter of information.

The tariff is protective, inasmuch as by keeping out these imported meats we are quite certain that we will have sufficient produced in our own country. It is doubtful if it will raise prices. It may possibly raise the price of poultry, to some extent, for some little time, but, generally speaking, there is an excess of poultry being produced in this country at all times, and there is a surplus for export. This is a protective tariff which we hope will give a better market to our own producers. With regard to its being any hardship on the poor, it can hardly be held that they are dependent on the articles mentioned here, such as poultry, game, mutton, lamb and even fresh beef.

I wish to say that I am rather disappointed with the Minister's presentation of the case. I should like to know what is the price of imported lamb in the Irish market at the present moment as against the present price of Irish lamb, because I think it is within the general knowledge of anyone who owns land that it is their painful experience that Irish lambs are selling extraordinarily badly at the moment. I would be surprised to hear that they are being undersold in the market. As far as I understand, the period of the year in which the foreign or Canterbury lamb always comes in is during the winter period and early spring, and it is not an article which comes into competition with our home lamb at all. By the time our lamb comes on the market the season for the foreign lamb has passed away. Accordingly, I would like some further details from the Minister on this question.

I should like to know from the Minister whether any provision is made for some sort of isolation place where returned objects can be stored. I had occasion last Saturday to come up against the tariffs on fowls strongly. A relative of mine sent me a fowl. A boiling fowl, I understand, can be bought for 2/6, and I was asked to pay 4/4 for this fowl— 3/10 for customs duty and 6d. for delivery. I wanted to give it back to the man, but I did not know that there was any place to return it for storage. I had no intention of paying such an exorbitant price, but evidently there had been no provision for storing such articles, and I should like to know what provision is made for the storing of rotting fowls such as this. I am not going to take it, if it occurs again. It is an extraordinary thing that a fowl costing 2/6 should be delivered to me at the rate of 3/10 for customs duty and 6d. for delivery. I object to it most strongly.

What about the prices?

Of imported lamb?

Of all these things.

I can only give roughly what the different prices are. Generally speaking, I am informed that the difference in price with regard to fowl ranges from 4d. to 6d. per lb., but, of course, the comparison there is not perhaps altogether sound, because the imported fowl are imported practically altogether from cold storage, whereas our own fowl are practically altogether on the fresh market. At times the difference goes up to 8d. or 9d. per lb., but generally I understand that it is from 4d. to 6d. with regard to frozen beef—the best chilled beef coming in— it is very hard to get any price, because no one will admit they are taking it. In the British market, however, it comes very close to the fresh beef at times—almost as close as 1d. a lb. Generally speaking, there would be more than that of a difference between the two, and the same would apply to lamb.

With regard to Deputy Sir James Craig's question as to the storage of returned fowls, I have no means at my disposal to deal with things of that sort.

What I want to know is what methods do they pursue? This fowl was sent without any idea that a duty had been placed on it. What sort of instructions have the customs officials received in order to put such an extraordinary high tariff upon a thing coming in that way?

I would suggest that the Minister give a free ticket to Deputy Sir James Craig's fowl.

Would you eat it yourself? It would suit you well.

If it was foul enough, he would eat it!

The Minister stated that poultry generally did not constitute any staple food of the poor. I understand that a good deal of the poultry imported is used for invalids and in hospitals and convalescent homes and that this is particularly the case during the winter months when Irish producers are not able to produce chickens and fowl of that description for such invalids. Is the Minister assured that he will be able to get a sufficient supply during the winter for that purpose, which will compare with the price of the imported fowls.

With regard to Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney's question as to the competition between foreign lamb and our own, I would like to point out that the same thing also applies to hospitals and convalescent homes.

I think that this is one of the very few tariffs that can be defended, certainly as regards poultry, The Department of Agriculture has been making strong efforts for years past to stimulate the poultry trade in this country. It is exceedingly remunerative, easy to put under way, and eminently adaptable to small-holders. It has been suggested that in its area of consumption poultry is largely an article of luxury. The Minister should inquire with regard to the prices at which we buy mutton, beef and lamb. I think that if he goes into that question, particularly comparing prices on the basis of what the Irish producer of mutton and lamb gets he may make some very interesting discoveries.—Even there if he made this inquiry he might have to seek the assistance of his colleague the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

I should like to point out that we have not yet got the information necessary to put before the House so that if this is to be passed we should appreciate the reasons why the tariff is put on. The preamble states, that when the Executive Council is satisfied that an immediate imposition of customs duties is necessary to prevent an expected dumping of goods of a particular description, and so on.

We have asked the Minister for Agriculture to give us the material upon which we can form our own opinion as to whether dumping is taking place. He has made one advance from his colleague in Finance on dumping. But the figures he has given do not prove anything unless we get at the same time an indication of prices reflected in the shops. He has not given the daily import of beef, but says the value had gone up from an average of £900 in three months to nearly £1,400. Merely to say that does not constitute any argument whatever that dumping has taken place. This is a tariff not introduced in ordinary tariff circumstances. It is an anti-dumping tariff and it is introduced under the Act to prevent dumping. I do not know how the Minister is going to explain that it is necessary, and how the Executive were satisfied that it was necessary, unless he now can give some information that presumably he gave the Executive Council in order to get their approval as to (a) the amount of the substance brought in, (b) the nature of such dumping, and the indication of price to show that these articles were sold here at such a rate as would put the producer here out of existence. We have not that information. All the Minister has been able to tell us, as far as he knows, is that sometimes the difference in price between the import and the home-produced is so much, and that he knows that frozen or chilled meat produces 1d. in the lb. less than the home-produced meat. That has not been related to the circumstances of the import in the last three months, and without that we have not any evidence of dumping.

I should like some information from the Minister about prices that I think would be interesting to the House. I cannot understand, at the present prices at which lamb is sold in our fairs, how there would be any possibility for importers making a profit, particularly when the imported article has to pass through so many hands which have to make their own share of profits. I certainly favour the imposition of at tariff on poultry, because it is one of the commodities that can be produced in abundance in this country. I do not know any particular form of live stock pertaining to the farm, except pigs, that can be produced in such abundance as poultry. I think it is a crying shame for the farmers of this country that they cannot produce sufficient poultry to supply the needs of all. Education in this direction has been very complete. Indeed poultry instructors have been tireless in their activity to help on this industry. Every facility is given to the farmer to carry out production on very modern lines, and on lines certainly which would make poultry a paying proposition. I do not see how importation of this kind can possibly be necessary.

It is a common thing to have lamb sold at £1 per head in our fairs. I think certainly if we could get the middleman's profits down we could enable the article to be sold at a cheap enough retail price.

I am asked whether we could give a guarantee that we would have sufficient supplies of chickens in this country for the winter supply of invalids. The tariff will not make any difference with regard to chickens for invalids. One would be anxious, in the case of invalids, to get fresh chickens. Fresh chickens are not imported practically at all in this country. Chickens imported are for cold storage, and the supply of chickens in the winter will be, as has been the case, increased.

With regard to dumping, I do not know what the proper interpretation of dumping would be. Great Britain imposed a tariff of 10 per cent. upon poultry coming into their country. As a result of that more poultry was coming into the Free State from Eastern Europe, which eventually found a better market here than in Great Britain and escaped the 10 per cent. tariff in Great Britain. That is why our imports increased in the first three months this year. There was also another factor. Poultry merchants, or somebody who had an interest in the business, expected to do an increased trade here during the Eucharistic Congress and about that time. As a result of that we were informed that there would be big consignments of poultry from other countries coming in during the fortnight before the Eucharistic Congress and that the same would apply to frozen lamb. We thought if that did not amount to an exact definition of the word dumping, at least it would have the same effect on the industry in this country, and that is why we moved under this anti-dumping laws. Deputy Brasier said he found it hard to understand how the importers could import this article and sell it at a profit considering the price at which the farmer is compelled to sell lamb at the present time. I understand the importers of this meat are doing a good trade as far as it goes. It is perhaps questionable whether much lamb would be imported for the remainder of this year at the price our own lambs are selling at now. I think it is doubtful that more would come in considering the prevailing prices of lamb.

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil went out of Committee.
Resolution reported.