Current levels of New Zealand imports are governed by the GATT negotiated as part of the Uruguay round in 1986 to 1994. Prior to that agreement imports from New Zealand were not legally limited under GATT but were subject to a specific duty. Since 1981 the quantities were in practice limited under a voluntary restraint agreement between New Zealand and the EU under which New Zealand accepted a quantity limit in return for a duty concession. Under the Uruguay round the voluntary restraint discipline was converted into a specific tariff which applies at, in effect, prohibitive levels above agreed quantities. It is not realistic at this stage to seek to renegotiate specific aspects of the agreement. However, I have made every effort to ensure that its terms are put into operation in such a way as to minimise its negative impact on Irish sheep producers. I have helped to ensure that a gentleman's agreement between New Zealand and the European Commission was concluded which underpins New Zealand's commitment not to disrupt or damage the EU lamb market. I have no reason to believe New Zealand will not comply with the terms of this understanding.
New Zealand lamb is imported mainly into the United Kingdom and France; in addition there is some concentration on Germany, Belgium and some Nordic countries. There are no direct imports into Ireland. Only a very limited quantity of lamb is marketed here and this is transferred from United Kingdom supply centres.
The income difficulties of Irish sheep producers in 1995 were not attributable, to any appreciable extent, to the New Zealand lamb supply patterns. The main factors included the decline in lamb consumption in the United Kingdom, a substantial increase in UK exports to France, our main export market, the over-hang of dry hoggets from 1994 and production and currency problems which distorted normal trading patterns on the Continent. In view of this, it is not possible to quantify the loss to the Irish economy resulting from New Zealand imports.
The Deputy will be aware that I succeeded in negotiating a special aid package for Irish sheep producers last month in order to compensate them for the low prices here in the early part of last year.
I have circulated a tabular statement containing details of the quantity of New Zealand lamb imported into the European Union in the years requested.