Written Answers. - Sheepmeat Sector.

Johnny Brady

Question:

69 Mr. J. Brady asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the current trend in sheepmeat prices compared with 1999; the level of premiums and other income supports through REP schemes currently available to sheepmeat producers; the efforts, if any, being made to bring improvements in the EU sheep regime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4692/00]

Trends in sheepmeat prices so far in 2000 have been very encouraging. Prices have increased by 35% since the first week in January from 85p/lb to £1.14p/lb and are now 43% above the same week in 1999.

As regards the ewe premium, the full ewe premium for 1999 amounted to £17.07 per head. In addition, sheep producers in the disadvantaged areas received a rural world premium of £5.23 per head and a basic headage payment of £10 per head in respect of the first 200 ewes in their flocks. Some £67 million of the premium has already been paid out and I expect the balance to be paid out shortly which will amount to approximately £30 million. Headage payments, amounting to £20.5 million were paid by the end of 1999 bringing the total headage and premium payments to £117.5 million.
The rural environment protection scheme does not include specific provisions relating to sheepmeat producers, but sheep farmers who participate in the scheme will qualify for a basic payment of 151 £119 per hectare up to a maximum of 40 hectares provided that they have observed the terms and conditions of the scheme. Higher rates of payment are available under the REPS in respect of land in target areas – natural heritage areas, farmland-based special areas of conservation or special protection areas and commonages.
The existing REP scheme was closed to new entrants on 31 December last but a new scheme with substantially the same provisions as those described above has been submitted to the EU Commission as part of my Department's draft rural development plan for the period 2000-2006. The plan is being considered by the Commission at present.
I have on a number of occasions in recent years pointed out to the EU Commission both within the Council of Ministers and in bilateral discussions with the Commissioner the deficiencies in the sheepmeat regime. At the November meeting of the Agriculture Council I again referred to the failure of the ewe premium system to properly compensate Irish producers because of the lack of convergence of prices across the European Union. The sheepmeat regime is being reviewed by the EU Commission at present. My Department had detailed discussions last month with the consultant and gave a full analysis of the regime and the adaptation and improvements required to meet Ireland's needs.
An arrangement was made also for the consultant to be briefed by the sheepmeat monitoring committee.
I also met recently with the French Minister for Agriculture to seek his support for a reform of the sheepmeat regime.