Trade in food products within the EU is governed by the principles of the single market. The free movement of goods within the single market and the increased trade liberalisation that has taken place at an international level is very much to the advantage of the Irish food industry. In 1998, the value of our food exports, at just over £5 billion, was more than double that of our imports, and, in 1999, the value of our exports grew by a further 3% to £5.2 billion.
Bord Bia, which has statutory responsibility for the marketing of Irish food on export markets, operates quality assurance schemes in the beef, pigmeat and egg sectors. These schemes are aimed at ensuring safe, wholesome, high quality products capable of commanding a premium market position.
A quality auditing scheme for horticultural food products is operated by Bord Glas. In addition, legislation is before the Oireachtas to give statutory effect to the national beef assurance scheme which will establish in detail the standards of Irish cattle and beef from production to marketing. In addition to the regulatory controls under which the food industry operates and which are supervised by the State agencies, including my Department, a number of voluntary initiatives are taken by the industry to improve standards.
I am also in the process of setting up a quality assurance schemes review group which I am sure will make a significant contribution in this important area. The functions of this group will be to review quality schemes in operation in the light of future requirements of consumers and the food industry, to examine the accreditation procedures applying to each scheme and to make appropriate recommendations.