Written Answers. - Food Industry.

Seán Power

Question:

31 Mr. Power asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the plans, if any, he has to help the food sector and the 50,000 jobs in view of the unrelenting pressure owing to the strength of the punt against sterling. [1862/96]

Robert Molloy

Question:

78 Mr. Molloy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the measures, if any, he proposes to put in place to assist exporting food companies, particularly those based on mushroom production, in order that they can maintain market share in Britain in spite of the strength of the Irish punt against sterling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1836/96]

Brian Cowen

Question:

230 Mr. Cowen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the plans, if any, he has in respect of the food industry in view of the pressure arising from the strength of the punt. [2003/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 31, 78 and 230 together.

The provision of assistance to the food processing sector, to counteract the effects of the depreciation of sterling against the Irish pound, would, without approval at EU level, be contrary to EU law. It is clear that in present circumstances such approval would not be forthcoming.

The appropriate response to the currency situation is that firms should improve their competitiveness and intensify and geographically diversify their marketing efforts. Towards this end considerable financial assistance is provided for the food industry, under the Structural Funds sub-programme for the industry. This assistance, from EU and national sources, amounts to £283 million and is available for investment in plant and equipment, research and development, marketing and promotion and training. Because of the need for a special effort in marketing and promotion, I recently announced the transfer of £7.5 million within the sub-programme towards marketing and promotion, subject to the procedures relating to such transfers being complied with. The competitive position of the food industry will also be improved by the changes in the PRSI system announced in last week's budget and the Government's overall approach to improving the competitiveness of the economy, including the various measures being financed by the Structural Funds under the National Development Plan.

There is a range of State schemes, under the Structural Funds Programme for the Food Industry, upon which they may draw for these purposes.

Full details of the action which An Bord Bia is taking to develop both new and existing export markets for meat, as well as other food products, are set out in its Market Development Strategy 1995-99 which was published last June. These include, in particular, two company grant schemes, the aim of which is to enable individual companies to improve their marketing capability and performance. In addition, An Bord Bia also provides a full range of information and promotional services. The market development strategy constitutes its contribution towards the realisation of the estimated targets set for the food industry namely to increase output from £9 billion to £12 billion and exports from £4.3 billion to £7 billion by 1999.
To enable An Bord Bia intensify its marketing and promotion efforts, I have agreed to provide it with additional funds of £7.5 million, from provisions of the Structural Funds Programme for the Food Industry which were under-utilised because of a delay in approving the programme. The transfer of these additional funds is subject to agreement under the programme's monitoring committee procedures which I expect to secure shortly.