I know BBC commentators have trouble pronouncing long Irish words but they could even have considerable difficulty with two words. Córas Beostoic agus Feola promoted the sale of beef and lamb. During my time as Minister for Agriculture that was their sole area of jurisdiction. Despite our efforts in the Department we could not expand their mandate. However, I am glad to see progress has been made. A few years ago the board's mandate was extended to include pigmeat. It was ridiculous that Córas Tráchtála was marketing some Irish products and the meat board was promoting others. I never understood the logic of that. It is a common-sense approach to bring everything together under one board. Regrettably BIM has not agreed to the inclusion of fish products. I do not understand why that is so.
For as long as I can remember, marketing has been the Achilles heel of Irish agriculture. As a race we do not appear to have great marketing skills. I may be criticised for saying that but it appears to be the case. This is due to the fact that we never really had to sell on the open market. I do not know if this point has been alluded to by previous speakers. Our membership of the EU gave us access to the intervention system whereby products which could not be sold on the open market were placed in intervention; in other words, they were put in stores and the producer got a guaranteed price for them. People did not have to try to sell their products as they still got money for them. Although it was the backbone of Irish agriculture for 20 years, this system was disastrous in many ways. It made us lazy and complacent and we did not have to go out and sell our products, which as every salesman knows, is a very tough job.
We are now in the position where those artificial mechanisms, the intervention system, are slowly and surely being removed through the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the implementation of the new GATT deal. For 20 years we enjoyed a system of protectionism for agricultural products but from now on we will have to compete on the open market. It may not yet have dawned on many people, particularly those in the agricultural sector, that some pain will be attached to this. A great deal of pain will be attached to it if we do not market our products efficiently and better than we have done to date.
Ten years ago we depended on two principals, Larry Goodman and Séamus Purcell, for the sale of beef. They did not rely on middlemen or salesmen to sell their products: they met Heads of States and Ministers from other European countries, the Far East and elsewhere and sold their products. We do not have the same structure of market operators which exists in other countries. For example, the New Zealanders are brilliant at selling their product in other countries. They are able to sell their product at a very low price because they do not have support systems such as intervention or subsidies — they got rid of those years ago. If we are not able to sell our products then the food sector and the agricultural industry in general will suffer. We have been sheltered for many years and we are now entering the real world. I am delighted with this very necessary development, we will sink or swim depending on our marketing ability.
I wish to refer to the way the board will be established. I disagree entirely with the concept of giving interest bodies, nominating bodies or whatever one calls them the right to nominate people to a board. This is defeatism, and the Minister should reconsider this aspect of the Bill. From my experience of being in charge of 12 to 14 State boards, it is wrong to allow nominating bodies to put a person on a board without reference to the Minister. The sanction of the Minister should be sought but this does not always happen in practice; once a person is nominated he or she goes on the board almost automatically. This system is disastrous and defeatist. Very often people are nominated to boards as repayment for favours done. This is the worst possible way to constitute a board.
The Minister should nominate the members of the board. It does not matter whether five members of the board come from one organisation while there is no representative of another organisation or whether they represent a sectoral interest. What is important is that the 11 people serving on the board know the food industry and the food business. The best people must be appointed to the board, and the Minister must not be dictated to by pressure groups. If the sectional interest groups to which I referred are allowed to nominate one or two members then we will have a poor quality board and the purpose of the exercise will be defeated.
If the board is not good then the implementation of policies, the selection of personnel and the entire operation will be in dire trouble from day one. I want to get this message across clearly to the Minister. I am sure that like me previous Ministers and Ministers in other Departments have had the same experience in this area. Those of us who were in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and had dealings with some boards will agree with me on balance. They may not admit this in public but I think they would do so in private: some of them may be afraid of the pressure groups and of being hauled over the coals. However, that is part of life. Having regard to its remit, CBF did a wonderful job in recent years. We could not get a better chief executive than Paddy Moore, an outstanding individual. He is the type of person we need on the board.
Reference has been made to An Bord Bainne. While it has done a good job, its work has not been as competitive as that of CBF. For much of the time An Bord Bainne has dealt in commodity products which are easier to dispose of than consumer products. One cannot sell a consumer product unless the consumer and the public want it, while one can get rid of a commodity product with the aid of EC subsidies. In fairness, it has to sell some commodities on the open market — I do not want to be critical of it — but one has to compete in that market.
The GATT agreement will cause considerable difficulties because we will be competing against New Zealand, Australia, South America, Canada and the United States for the sale of agricultural products. When one considers that the price of beef here is 115p per pound while it is 50p per pound in Australia, 35p per pound in South America and 75p per pound in the United States and Canada one can see that we will have a problem in years to come. Under the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the new GATT agreement we will have to compete with producers who can sell beef at those prices. Those in the milk industry will have to compete against New Zealand where milk can be produced for as little as 20-25p per gallon. If our dairy farmers were asked to produce milk for this price most of them would go out of business; they could not operate on that basis.
The dear food policy in the EU suits Ireland. We export 80 per cent of all we produce and it is the massive inflow of money primarily from our agricultural export trade which keeps us going — it keeps cars on the road and enables people to build good quality houses. If we cannot compete with countries able to produce those commodities at a much lower price, we are in dire trouble; that is where marketing enters. If we cannot sell on the open market we are really in trouble. However, we have ability or intuition — I suppose the word is "flair"— if we put our minds to it, we can do it. I have confidence in people's ability to do it but I would not take it for granted. The days of beef mountains, skimmed milk powder mountains, butter mountains, wine and olive oil lakes, are coming to an end. We will no longer have a safety net or be able to dump them into intervention as it was described; we will have to sell such produce.
The present alternative, if people cannot put such produce into intervention, is that they will be given increased headage grants and increased premia for cattle, sheep and other products. Under the GATT Agreement that will end, those grants can be paid for so many years only; we are all sufficiently astute to know that. People have been given the impression by politicians, without naming any, that these payments will continue indefinitely; they will not. I predict they will be almost totally phased out by the end of this century, which is when marketing will come into play. We will then need a strong Bord Bia or, as it will be known worldwide, the Irish Food and Drinks Board, let us not forget the drinks aspect of it.
It is interesting that we have a thriving drinks industry abroad. I know you, a Cheann Comhairle, are not a man for visiting pubs, but you will be interested to know that, at the last count, there were 17 Irish pubs in Paris and that the number is increasing almost daily. Last week I was in Warsaw as a member of the Council of Europe — it was not a junket; it was hard work — where there are now two Irish pubs, a place one would not expect to find them. There are also pubs in Moscow and all sorts of other venues worldwide. For instance, Guinness and Smithwicks sell their product worldwide. There are three or four Guinness breweries in Nigeria; we are not exporting Guinness; they are brewing it out there. As the Minister of State will know, the local drink there is a large bottle of Guinness. I understand they also have breweries in Malaysia where Guinness and Smithwicks, or their subsidiaries, play their part. There is a strange contradiction in that we were the people who created, if that is the correct description, whiskey, uisce beatha and that our Celtic brothers in Scotland can sell 50 to 100 bottles of whiskey worldwide for every one we produce. Perhaps it is a matter of marketing although I think it is more a case of getting the blend right; we tend to deal in malt whiskeys whereas they go for blended whiskeys, not as severe on the palate, which appeal to Americans and others worldwide. Suffice it to say that the product we created is now outselling us by 50:1 or 100:1 worldwide. Those are the vagaries; you win some, you lose some, and we lost out on that one.
A Cheann Comhairle, you welcomed here this morning a delegation from Poland. I mention this to illustrate further the problems that will arise under the GATT Agreement and the Common Agricultural Policy for the food industry. That delegation was here primarily to lobby the Government and politicians about Poland's entry to the European Union. Not alone does Poland want to become a member of the European Union but countries like Czechoslovakia, Romania, the Ukraine, even Russia itself all want to join; even if we do not like it, they will be allowed to enter in the not too distant future because they are part of Europe. Poland is very confident of gaining entry because the Germans want them in. One wonders why bearing in mind the trauma, the financial and social upheaval when Germany was reunited? However, the Germans want a buffer state between themselves and the Russians; history is repeating itself. The chances are that, if the Germans want the Poles in, they will be in which will place tremendous pressures on our food industry because they will be huge exporters of the type of food we produce. There are well over two million farmers in Poland alone, corresponding to approximately one-third of the total farmers in the European Union. When one considers all the farmers in the bread basket of Europe, the Ukraine, Romania, Russia and the other countries I mentioned, this means will we have masses of food, a grossly over-supplied market. It also means we must be able to sell it successfully to survive. Our produce is at least as good as that of other countries but it is not always much better. Perhaps Polish beef is just as good as ours, it depends on taste. Continentals do not like meat containing fat, which means we must trim it off. We must ensure that our animals have that lean, hungry look. It is an open market and we may well be over-estimating the value of our product. However, in future we shall have to sell internationally in competition with goods produced elsewhere cheaper than here. That is why it is so important to have a very good Bord Bia.