Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 6 Mar 2008

Vol. 649 No. 3

World Trade Organisation: Statements.

I very much welcome this opportunity to address the House on the ongoing WTO negotiations. As a small open economy, Ireland has much to gain from the rule-based multilateral trading system provided by the World Trade Organisation and the current round of negotiations presents both challenges and opportunities for all of the major economic sectors in Ireland, in particular the services, agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

Negotiations on trade liberalisation have been with us for many years. Up until 1995, the rules were largely ineffective in controlling trade in agricultural products. However, the 1995 Uruguay Round changed all that and agriculture trade is now firmly within the multilateral trading system. The Uruguay Round, which distinguished between the forms of support on the basis of domestic support, export subsidies and market access and committed member countries to specific reductions in each, was a significant first step in disciplining agriculture in a meaningful way. At the same time, the Uruguay Round struck a balance between agricultural trade liberalisation and member countries' desire to pursue legitimate agricultural policy goals.

Agriculture continues to make an important contribution, economically and socially, to Irish society and the outcome of negotiations on the new WTO agreement on agriculture will be a crucial for us. Indeed, agriculture will have a critical role in determining the final outcome of the round.

The outcome of the current negotiations will determine the maximum levels of protection and support which will apply to the agriculture sector in the future and given that the process of liberalisation will be significantly more advanced, the negotiations represent a real challenge to the future of EU and Irish agriculture.

The negotiations were launched at the WTO Doha ministerial conference in November 2001 under a very ambitious mandate for trade liberalisation. In so far as agriculture is concerned, the Doha mandate provides for substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support, reductions in, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidy and substantial improvements in market access. Substantial reductions in tariffs, domestic support and export subsidies are, therefore, prominent issues in the negotiations.

We in the European Union have prepared responsibly for these negotiations. Indeed, recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy were deliberately designed to position the EU to contribute to a successful outcome of the round. The Agenda 2000 reform, which continued the process of reform launched by Commissioner MacSharry in 1992, provided for further cuts in institutional price guarantees with compensation for farmers through direct payments. Further progress was made in the radical reform in the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy which was agreed in June 2003.

The decision to decouple payments was a major step in fulfilling the Doha target of substantially reducing trade distorting domestic supports. Decoupled payments, which by their nature are not linked in any way to production, are considered non-trade distorting by the WTO and qualify for the so-called "Green Box" category of payments and it is most important that this should remain the case. The EU move away from coupled payments and the gradual reduction in the more conventional market support measures, such as intervention, have reduced very substantially our levels of trade-distorting supports, thereby enabling the EU to face into the negotiation from a position of strength.

I will review briefly the progress of the negotiation since the launch in Doha. In reality, little progress was made until the conclusion of a framework agreement in August 2004. Prior to that, the negotiations were marked by failure to achieve consensus as in, for example, the collapse of the WTO ministerial conference at Cancun. The framework agreement of August 2004, which set out the structure and content of the new agreement, represented a significant breakthrough.

The Hong Kong ministerial conference in December 2005 provided a further stepping stone towards the conclusion of the round, with agreement on a number of issues in particular key development matters. Since then, however, the negotiations have stumbled along, with a serious of missed deadlines and the full suspension of negotiations in the summer of 2006. Although negotiations fully resumed in early 2007, further efforts to conclude the round have, to date, failed.

It is no secret that since the Hong Kong ministerial conference I have been dissatisfied with the direction of the negotiations and with the negotiating strategy adopted by the Commission. There has been an insistence by the negotiating partners that they would not engage in meaningful negotiations on other issues until substantive progress has been made in respect of agriculture. As already stated, the Doha mandate covers a broad trade agenda and it is not acceptable that concessions in agriculture should be a precondition for movement elsewhere. Agriculture is vitally important to the livelihoods of millions of farm families in developed and developing countries and they should not be sacrificed for the sake of an overall WTO agreement. I am disappointed that the same commitment to securing an agreement has not been shown by many of the other developed countries among the negotiating partners which continue to put the EU under pressure on agriculture. In contrast, the efforts made by the EU as a whole in preparation for the negotiations clearly show its commitment to achieving an ambitious outcome.

I have also been concerned that the Commission has been adopting an unnecessarily concessionary approach to the negotiations. The Commission negotiates in the WTO on behalf of the member states on the basis of a mandate which was agreed by the Council of Ministers. The mandate is designed to defend the CAP as it has evolved under successive reforms, including Agenda 2000 and the mid-term review, both of which were agreed with a view to positioning the EU in the WTO negotiations. Essentially, the Council mandate aims to protect the European model of agriculture as an economic sector and as a basis for sustainable development based on the multi-functional nature of agriculture and the part it plays in the economy, the environment and society in general.

I wish to update the House on the latest developments in respect of the negotiations. The chairs of WTO agriculture and non-agricultural market access, NAMA, negotiating committees issued new draft texts of so-called modalities — essentially drafts of the detailed elements of an agreement — on 8 February. As already stated, I have not been happy with the direction of the negotiations and these latest draft texts have not done anything to allay my concerns.

I am deeply worried by the suggestion that the EU should provide further concessions on a range of agriculture issues, particularly the level of tariff reductions, the treatment of sensitive products and the related tariff quota expansion. At the same time, the text on market access for industrial goods does not provide the foreseen additional market opportunities for EU goods. This would create a greater imbalance in the negotiations, with a further disproportionate burden being borne by EU agriculture in order to achieve what I consider to be a bad deal. This is not acceptable. There would be a direct and serious threat to the continued viability of many elements of EU agriculture in the face of some aspects of the latest market access proposals.

As stated earlier, my view is that the CAP reforms which have already been implemented represent a very significant contribution to these negotiations——

——and other WTO negotiating partners must make equivalent contributions to ensure that an ambitious and balanced agreement is realised.

It is time for realism to prevail at the negotiations with regard to what is attainable and acceptable in respect of agriculture. We must achieve genuine balance in any final agreement. Crucially, the European agrifood sector must not be sacrificed for the sake of a deal. This is the position consistently taken by the Government and it will continue to be strongly reflected at various EU and WTO meetings. My colleagues in Government, my officials and I have taken every opportunity to make our concerns clear to the EU Commission in bilateral contacts and at meetings of the EU co-ordinating groups in Geneva, the Article 133 committee, the Agriculture Council and the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

This is not just an Irish concern. I have been engaged for several years in a continuous process of encouraging and cajoling other member states to join Ireland in its strong stance on this issue. I have also been pressing the Commission, both at the Council of Agriculture Ministers and in direct bilateral meetings, to stiffen their backs in the negotiations. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has played a similar leading role at the General Affairs Council. Like his predecessor, Deputy Michael Ahern, the Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, has also been active in this intensive effort on the part of the Government. The Taoiseach has taken every opportunity to put forward our case at the very highest level in Europe. This has been a signal to others both of the importance of this issue to Ireland and the need for engagement at the highest levels by European Governments in respect of this matter.

We have also established an alliance with a group of over 14 EU member states and there is good support for the view that the legitimate interests of the EU agrifood sector must be strongly defended. At the latest Council meeting the membership of the group of 14 swelled to 20. Of course, each member state has its own particular concerns. While Ireland focuses on the "Green Box", export refunds and market access for beef and dairy products, others are, for example, concerned about Mediterranean products. However, such broad alliances are crucial in an EU of 27 member states.

The Government's intention is to continue these contacts with other member states and directly with the Commission. This process has been particularly intense in recent times. That will remain the case in the coming months as the WTO Director General, Pascal Lamy, has indicated his intention of calling a ministerial meeting in 2008, with a view to finalising the modalities of an agreement on agriculture and NAMA. The timing of this ministerial meeting is as yet unclear, although dates in April, May, June and even July have been mentioned. The timing is very much dependent on the progress that can be made to resolve the large number of technical issues that remain outstanding.

In recent weeks, intensive discussions have taken place in Geneva on the texts. However, there are still many technical, as well as political, issues that have not been resolved. The possibility that further texts might issue from the agriculture and NAMA chairs, before discussions move to a horizontal process at senior official and political level, has not been ruled out.

It is not only the timing of the ministerial meeting that is in doubt. A number of WTO members have outlined their opposition to dealing only with agriculture and NAMA at a ministerial meeting and have emphasised the need for progress on other elements of the WTO negotiating agenda such as services, rules trade facilitation, etc. This is in line with the WTO principle of a single undertaking in the negotiations, whereby nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. It is, therefore, unclear at this stage which issues would be addressed at a ministerial meeting. If agreement were to be reached on agriculture and NAMA at this time, the suggestion is that, in the period needed to produce detailed WTO schedules, the other areas of negotiation would be concluded so that the final overall agreement would be in place by the end of 2008.

As to the prospects for an agreement this year, it is very difficult to call. In addition to the large number of complex issues across the broad spectrum of negotiating areas that are unresolved, the uncertainty in the US political situation will play a crucial role in whether this proposed timetable for reaching a final agreement is achieved. We must assume, however, that regardless of whether a WTO agreement is concluded this year, sooner or later there will be an agreement. It is important, therefore, that we prepare ourselves for this. Irrespective of the precise substance of such an agreement, it will present significant challenges for the Irish food industry and for the beef sector in particular.

As the negotiations continue, and while I am committed to a successful conclusion to the round, I assure the House that the Government is determined to ensure that EU agriculture will not be sacrificed for the sake of an agreement. There must be an equitable agreement which will deal with all elements of negotiation. Ireland and the EU must secure an agreement that will ensure continued economic development. Therefore, my overriding objective is to ensure that the CAP reforms, which have already been implemented and which represent the limit of the EU mandate in these negotiations, are not undermined. I will continue to argue this point forcefully in the negotiations.

I have a number of specific priorities in respect of the ongoing agriculture negotiations. On domestic support, I aim to ensure that the system of decoupled direct payments continue to qualify as non-trade distorting payments under the WTO "Green Box" classification and so remain exempt from reductions under the new round. There can be no question of the decoupled single farm payments being undermined by any WTO proposals for reviewing the "Green Box". This is a clear red line for the Government which cannot be crossed in the negotiations.

On export subsidies, we want to ensure the full parallel elimination of all forms of export subsidy, while seeking the maximum flexibility in the phasing out arrangements for the EU export refunds scheme. On market access, it is vitally important that Irish and EU farmers have sufficient time to adjust to CAP reform and, in particular, the impact of the introduction of the decoupled payment system. An effective import regime has a vital role to play. Therefore, my aim is to retain a realistic and effective level of protection for our producers and exporters. As to non-trade concerns, with others, I have repeatedly drawn attention to the importance of this issue and, in particular, the fair application of equivalence in sanitary and phyto-sanitary protection. I will continue to raise this issue in the context of the WTO negotiations and elsewhere.

It is regrettable that other negotiating partners are focusing on pursuing further concessions from the European Union without sufficient reciprocal movement on their part. The European Union cannot be blamed for the current difficulties in the negotiations because we have made significant contributions to the round. Other developed countries and the more economically advanced developing countries must step up and deliver if an ambitious Doha Round which will benefit the poorest countries is to be achieved. I will continue to have an active role in the ongoing negotiations and will vigorously pursue the key objectives I have outlined. I will also continue to work closely with the Commission and other like-minded member states to secure a balanced agreement which will benefit Ireland.

I welcome the opportunity to address this issue and congratulate my colleague, Deputy Crawford, on seeking this debate last week. We do not often have an opportunity in the Chamber to sing from the same hymn sheet in respect of the national interest. There is very little with which I disagree in the objectives the Minister has set out but I have serious reservations about the prosecution of those objectives and how the campaign is being fought. I envy the Minister in terms of the backup resources and advice at her disposal. I am grateful to officials in her Department and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment for their recent briefing. They are a fine bunch of officials and 100% committed to pursuing the optimum objective, the best deal for Ireland. I invite anyone who has not considered this matter in detail to visit the WTO website, to note the impressive jargon and terminology which could almost fill another edition of the Collins English Dictionary.

In my early days in the House in the 1990s the GATT Round and the Uruguay agreement dominated agricultural policy. The Doha Round presents the greatest threat to Irish agriculture since that time and requires great vigilance. World trade agreements are good for our small open trading economy because of their aversion of bilateral agreements. The success of the economy has been largely built on its ability, by virtue of world trade agreements, to attract international or multinational companies to locate here and the explosion in internationally traded services in organisations such as Google. No agreement is preferable to a rushed agreement or one that compromises our single biggest sector, agriculture. We also have an obligation to defend the Common Agricultural Policy in the European Union.

The merry-go-round from Doha to Potsdam to Geneva to Hong Kong and elsewhere presents an alarming spectacle of betrayal of European agriculture and consumers. It concerns internationally traded services, research and development opportunities, patents and so on, which are important for the future. We must, however, keep our eye on the main opportunity, the preservation of Irish agriculture and the Common Agricultural Policy. I do not know where the dynamics are leading. There is a US presidential election coming up, while the current Commission will leave office relatively soon and the term of the Director General, Mr. Lamy, is up. The people in question may be rushing to have this under their belts for inclusion in their CVs. I, therefore, urge the Minister to be extremely vigilant and not party to selling out European and Irish interests.

According to the Commission's statement in Agenda 2000:

The European Model is not the same model as pursued by our major competitors elsewhere. There are many differences between ours and theirs. Seeking to be competitive should not be confused with blindly following the dictates of a market that is far from perfect. The European model is designed to safeguard the earnings of farmers, above all keeping them stable, using the machinery of the market organisations and compensatory payments.

The fundamental difference between the European model and that of our major competitors lies in the multifunctional nature of Europe's agriculture and the part it plays in the economy and the environment, in society and in preserving the landscape.

This involves consumers and environmentalists, as well as farmers. It is all-embracing. This needs to be set at the heart of the defence mechanisms used to protect our interests in the negotiations.

We also need to know where we came from. The raison d’être for the Common Agricultural Policy was that people in Europe were hungry in the 1950s after the Second World War. If the buzzword today is “quality”, then it was “quantity”. The policy ran aground in the 1980s because boats laden with butter floated off Cork harbour, there were beef mountains and milk lakes. European taxpayers, rightly, reacted against such a development. In the new millennium consumer interests have moved centre stage with the erosion of food surpluses and concern for animal welfare. In the policy consumers and primary producers are now at one. That model is worth preserving.

We must also factor food security into the equation. We are at record low levels of global food inventories from grain to dairy products, which must inform our policy in this regard. The world's population doubled between 1900 and 2000 and is set to increase significantly by 2050, with an annual growth rate of 80 million. This presents a serious challenge to global food security.

There were significant market opportunities in the dairy sector last year because of drought in Australia. This took out one of the major dairy producers in the world and a significant exporting nation. There is increasing frequency of extreme climatic conditions, which affects food production. Water use per capita has multiplied six times since 1900. Challenges include desertification — the Sahara is moving north and south, taking arable land out of production. There is increased urbanisation, particularly in developing countries. China is building six cities the size of Dublin almost every couple of months. There is also increasing consumption, particularly in emerging economies where there is a tendency to move towards western type diets high in protein. Because of the very significant populations there, small percentage increases are leading to substantial increases in demand for food.

There is almost a denial of that reality in the context of those charged by the interests of the Commission — Mr. Mandelson and his team — to negotiate on our behalf. It is interesting that in the course of her speech I do not think the Minister mentioned Mr. Mandelson once by name. It is important to remember where he comes from. He was never a friend of the Common Agricultural Policy, nor was Mr. Blair, but they were very interested in cheap food. His policy could effectively move towards a no-food policy in Europe and a significant escalation of outsourcing. That is a very significant threat. It dovetails with the issues of food miles, carbon footprint and climate change. I do not know if there is a willingness at European level to put those issues centre stage in terms of the ongoing negotiations.

I would prefer to make haste slowly and if there is not going to be an agreement I will not lose sleep about it in the short term. An agreement will be good for us, but it has to be the right one. It has to be borne in mind that whereas Mr. Mandelson might well turn off the tap of European production, it will not be that easy to restart the engine and turn it on again. Once farmers leave the land it will be very difficult to get production turned on again in the quantities which may be needed in the event of global or regional disasters in food production. It is not just a primary producer's interest. It is a matter of concern, too, for consumers and the environment. I do not believe, in the context of the Doha Development Agenda, that it can be left exclusively to Mr. Mandelson.

I come to the issue of how the case is being prosecuted by the Government at EU level. The Minister mentioned in her contribution that there was originally a group of 14 and that now 20 member states are opposed to these developments. That has to reflect a growing frustration at the fact Mr. Mandelson is acting significantly beyond his negotiating brief from the Commission. I want to avoid confrontation with the Minister because our interests in this regard are the same, but simply put, that is a failure at a political level to rein in the Commissioner and to tell him, in effect: "This far and no further shalt thou go". In the interests of improved market access — non-agricultural market access, NAMA, is the jargon used — he should not be allowed to sell out the interests of European agriculture, and at a local level, Irish beef producers in particular, to get a deal. It is the responsibility of the Taoiseach and the Minister to rein in Mr. Mandelson. If 20 member states are so concerned about the Commissioner's activity, then I urge them to act. If necessary let us have a special Intergovernmental Conference where Mr. Mandelson is reined in and a telling message delivered to the Commission.

The danger is that the concessions which the EU made at the start of the 2001 Doha Development Agenda, subsequently CAP reform in 2003, the decoupling arrangements, single farm payments and REPS in particular — issues in the so-called green box — are now considered by Mr. Mandelson to be fair game. The message from Ireland and many other countries that have decoupled should clearly be, "Hands off the green box". These items are not up for discussion. They are not trade distorting in the context of the WTO and the Commissioner must be given that message. Mr. Mandelson also has an opportunity and an obligation to protect and preserve high standards of food production in the European Union. It is galling in the extreme that one can now buy within the European Union that which cannot be produced there.

I come to the issue that has been debated here regularly, Brazilian beef, which is available again here. If Brazilians want access to European markets then, in the context of the WTO, let us have non-trade issues that will ensure their products are produced to a standard European consumers expect and not give them an unfair competitive advantage in putting their products into European supermarkets. That, in essence, is the kernel of the issue.

If we take the chicken and egg situation, we abandoned intensive production of poultry and sold our crates to Thailand and China. Now, by virtue of arrangements facilitated under world trade, over which the European Union has no redress, we have chickens produced to standards we have no control over lying side by side with and competing in supermarkets with Irish and European poultry produced to the highest standards. That is a betrayal of consumer interests as well and needs to be addressed. We face the phasing out of battery egg production here by 2012. The danger is that this business will just migrate eastwards and the eggs will come in from eastern Europe and elsewhere. These are the animal welfare non-trade issues that need to be put centre stage by Mr. Mandelson, alongside food security in order to ensure there is a level playing pitch. I should have thought that was what world trade arrangements were about, by and large — to ensure fair competition. We will compete with anybody, the best in the world in terms of beef or any other sector, if we are given a level playing pitch.

I had a number of other points to elaborate on, particularly in respect of the beef sector, but I am running out of time. Mr. Mandelson needs to be reined in. I read on the website that EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy was meeting this week the Swiss, Norwegian and Kazakhstan delegations. If necessary, the Taoiseach and the Minister need to go to Mr. Barroso as President of the Commission and reissue Mr. Mandelson with his riding instructions in terms of negotiation. Also, at this late stage, they need to talk directly to Mr. Lamy about European concerns. These are Irish concerns too in the broadest context of the world trade talks.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this timely debate, recognising that Deputy Crawford sought its instigation. In terms of the Minister's contribution, I am reassured. It is the first time in my experience that we have had such a comprehensive outline of the Irish position vis-à-vis the negotiations, and I am reassured by the fact that there is a very strong Irish position, one that seeks to protect the national interest. The very term “national interest” appears to have come into fashion again, because there are clear trends in how Ireland’s terms of trade have been affected, or potentially may be, by any deal negotiated by Mr. Mandelson, purportedly on our behalf. This could, however, be detrimental ultimately to Irish agriculture and Ireland’s interests. I am heartened that the Minister and her officials are sceptical and have expressed caution about the concessionary approach of the Commission in its approach to the negotiations.

It would appear that Mr. Mandelson's negotiating position has been further weakened by criticism by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the effect that the European Union was making too many concessions on agriculture. It would appear, too, from the Minister's statement that the Irish and French positions are as one in this regard. It begs the question as to how many other member states hold a similar position and whether Commissioner Mandelson's mandate has been overstepped. As Deputy Creed stated, it is a question of determining whether the Commissioner's mandate should be reviewed on the basis that the potential for Irish agriculture is being undermined seriously by his current negotiating stance.

The response of the EU Commissioner for External Trade to the remarks of President Sarkozy is that his hands are tied by those in emerging nations who want concessions on industrial goods or non-agricultural market access. If President Sarkozy is sceptical or critical, it does not bode well for the next ministerial round, especially given his comments that he would oppose any WTO deal that went against the interests of France and the 27-nation European Union, especially in respect of agriculture. Agriculture, therefore, remains a stumbling block to a deal. Ironically, it is perhaps fortuitous that the French position is strong because I hope it will favour Ireland in the final outcome.

It would appear that talks are not moving quickly enough for the United States, whose representatives are warning against what Ambassador Schwab, the US Trade Representative, is calling an "erosion" of willingness by some nations to open their markets to more imported farm goods. The agricultural issues seem to have reached an impasse. My understanding of this development is that future success will be based on the so-called Doha round of world trade talks, allowing for greater market access for agriculture in particular. The big question will be whether there can be enough progress to allow a ministerial meeting in late March, April or even later to agree on the outline of a deal, given that the Doha round was launched in 2001 and was expected to last approximately four years.

It is clear from the US perspective that there is a clear mood in favour of the liberalisation of agriculture. The US trade representative, has stated an agreement on freer agricultural trade is essential if there is to be a Doha pact. The US position is predicated on a liberalisation agenda including the European Union, by way of Mr. Mandelson advocating a similar line. This involves the European Union reducing its subsidies in exchange for expanded access to markets in third countries and developing countries in particular. To be frank, the Mandelson agenda is detrimental to both Irish agriculture and agriculture in developing countries.

According to the Institute for International Integration Studies at Trinity College, "The European Union supports a more market-oriented multilateral trading system but is also concerned about social, economic and environmental sustainability". It seeks recognition for non-trade concerns. I remain sceptical about the EU position on non-trade concerns. There is nothing in the current deliberations that would give solace to any Irish farmers competing in the dairy and beef sectors who fear the flooding of the Irish and EU markets with imports that are not subject to the same standards that apply within the EU Internal Market.

The EU position, as adopted by Commissioner Mandelson, is nebulous. The IFA, in its paper, Meeting the Challenges of WTO and Cap Reform, rightly reflects the concerns of consumers regarding "the double standards between those which Irish and other European farmers have to meet on food safety, [and] traceability... and the much lower standards applying to food imports into the EU". It must be stated this is a rational concern predicated on a genuine fear that our standards of production will be traded away to meet an agenda that does nothing to protect our interests and concessions, which have been hard won through CAP negotiations for years.

It must also be stated that the United States is championing the liberalisation of agricultural trade, targeting in particular the elimination of export subsidies and substantial improvements in market access. One analysis of the US position is that it is weakened by the large increase in domestic support the US is paying to its farmers "and by doubts over whether the political support exists in Congress to face down its own farm lobby and embrace far-reaching reforms".

The Doha agenda is unpopular and there are question marks over whether the end of the Bush regime in the United States will signal any mood for a deal in advance of a new President being appointed. The Irish farming position is characterised by genuine fears about cuts to beef and dairy tariffs. It is a question of whether there is enough support evident at Council of Ministers level for such a cut and of the consequences for the Irish position. This has been outlined clearly today. The Irish and French positions are very clear but one must ask whether there is a sufficient blocking majority to alter the EU Commission's position on the protection of agriculture in Ireland and other countries.

Arguably, Ireland is a small peripheral nation in the negotiations and it relies on the trading bloc represented by the European Commission. However, if the French position is similar to our own — I realise there will be subtle differences — we need to form an alliance. The question remains as to whether the trading bloc in the European Union is sufficiently large to force Commissioner Mandelson's hand on the matter. I remain sceptical because he has already received his mandate, but I hope it can be reversed in some respects.

While guaranteeing food security for EU citizens is a priority and while this can best be achieved through a combination of supporting EU food production and through importation set in the framework of the WTO rules, food security also depends on the European Union's contribution to the building up of world stocks, which are dramatically low, and allowing the European Union not only to protect itself against shortages, but also to take responsibility with regard to global food security. Such importation, however, must be subject to the same standards that Irish farmers adhere to, and there can be no trade-off or concessions on this matter. In any quest to impose liberalisation of the regime, equality in terms of trade and standards must apply. In that context, we must take cognisance of the need to protect the farmers of Europe, including Irish farmers, against a liberalisation agenda that will ultimately compromise the Irish comparative advantage in the beef and dairy sector and will add nothing of value to developing countries' terms of trade.

Perhaps my assessment of the current WTO deliberations is open to debate, but it seems to me that the Irish farming position is not too dissimilar to that of developing countries in its opposition to the current round, albeit for entirely different reasons. Ultimately, we must protect Irish agriculture and allow for an opening up of markets for third countries. However, if there is to be any doubt about the future and competitiveness of Irish agriculture, and if the proposed tariff cuts are made, notwithstanding Commissioner Mandelson's association with a sister party of mine — I disown his current policies in this regard — there should be no deal and no compromise on this issue.

The importance of agriculture to the economy is illustrated by the fact that 10% of our trade is in agricultural produce. The greater proportion of that is within the European Union.

The potential danger to Irish trade presented by the approach that Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is adopting in the WTO negotiations is illustrated by the fact that at present over 60% of our exports and 60% of our imports are within the EU, with approximately 20% of exports going to the United States and over 10% of our imports originating there. Therefore, a comparatively small proportion of our trade is with the developing world.

That could change dramatically if the more radical proposals before the WTO come into effect with a potentially massive influx of food produce, particularly beef, from outside the EU, the greater part of that from Latin America. That would undermine the entire agricultural sector in the EU and would quite possibly destroy our beef producing sector. There is also the danger presented by further concessions on the importation of lamb from New Zealand.

Curiously, while Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is now an advocate of concessions by the EU on agriculture he was singing a different tune two years ago at the negotiations in Hong Kong. At that time, despite the changes made to CAP in 2003 and despite the offer of further concessions, Mandelson stated:

The problem is that whatever we offer is not enough for the highly competitive, very aggressive agricultural producers and exporters like Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

At the time he clearly recognised that those states were intent on forcing open the EU to their products at a potentially devastating cost to European farmers.

He went on to claim that whatever the spin being put out by those countries on fair trade, the reality was that a victory for them would damage the interests of the most developing nations to the extent that agricultural trade between African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the EU might be wiped out.

Indeed, it has been recognised by many economists that the liberalisation of agricultural trade does not bring benefits to developing countries, and least of all to farmers in those countries. It has also been argued that protection of agriculture in the EU is not a significant factor in the problems of the developing countries.

While some argue that opening EU to Latin American meat would be an act of trade justice, in reality the only beneficiaries would be the multinational corporations that control the trade and the large ranchers who produce the meat and who do not have to comply with EU standards of animal health and safety, nor indeed with EU standards of worker protection or regard for the natural environment.

Unlike 2005, it would appear that Commissioner Mandelson is now willing to make those concessions if it will secure an overall deal. This begs the question as to who he represents, given that France and other member states have been strongly critical of his stance on agriculture. If the proposed concessions are deemed harmful to Irish agriculture, as is the general consensus, then the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, and her Government colleagues need to make this argument strongly and in alliance with other European Union states whose interests are similarly under threat. While such may be what is happening in the corridors of Brussels, they should not be behind the door about coming out publicly in the same way as the French Government has so clearly done.

As we face into the referendum on the Lisbon treaty this issue is a timely reminder of how much control over our own affairs we have surrendered to the European Union and to a Commission that at times appears to act as though it was the sovereign power and not the supposed representative of member states, or that puts the interests of the major industrial nations and of the major corporations ahead of European farmers and of those states more dependent on farming.

Indeed, it is interesting to note that last week the IFA, which has been consistently and enthusiastically in favour of previous proposals on European Union enlargement and centralisation, hinted that farmers and their families could not be expected to support the Lisbon treaty referendum if their livelihood was being undermined by the EU Commission in the WTO negotiations.

It is clear that Irish farmers are beginning to realise that any guarantees made during the last reform of the Common Agricultural Policy on income security and the commitment of the EU to preserving family farming are contingent on bigger issues such as the WTO which threaten to totally undermine them. During the 2003 reform of CAP farmers were assured by then Commissioner Fischler and by the Commission overall that agreeing to decoupling would satisfy the demand being made through the WTO to reduce the level of direct subsidies tied to production, and that by so doing farmers would enjoy considerably more freedom on what to produce and with some income security provided by the single farm payment. Farmers therefore accepted the reform in good faith. Only now do they discover that what was accepted in 2003 is not only under renewed assault, but the EU Commission itself appears to be party to that assault by its stance on the forthcoming negotiations. Farmers therefore have the right to feel aggrieved and to expect that the EU will also act in good faith to defend the reformed CAP.

There are other issues on the WTO, perhaps most notably the matter of genetically modified food products. There has been massive pressure on the European Union from the United States Government, acting in the interests of the giant corporations, to license genetically modified products within the EU. That has encountered considerable resistance and I understand all polls of popular opinion within the EU to date have indicated rejection of GM food products, and yet the Commission has persistently attempted to foist these products on farmers and consumers even though there is no evidence that they bring any benefits and, indeed, much more seriously, there remains considerable doubt over their safety.

I noted that the Greens have affected some change in Government policy on this issue and Irish officials no longer consistently vote in favour of every pro-GM proposal. It is still a long way from consistent opposition, as is the stated policy of both Sinn Féin and, indeed, the Green Party.

It is to be hoped that the Government maintains a close eye on any proposals regarding genetically modified food products that may arise at the World Trade Organisation negotiations and that they oppose any further efforts to liberalise the availability of such products within the EU.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and I, together with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coughlan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy McGuinness, have been working closely during the current Doha Development Agenda World Trade Organisation negotiations. The very fact that this WTO round of negotiations is called the Doha Development Agenda underlines the rich world's acceptance that addressing the concerns of its developing partners was a precondition for getting the negotiations started. The same perspective is needed if they are to be brought to a successful conclusion.

The World Trade Organisation is the major intergovernmental regulator of international trade. While its rules may have been more influenced by developed economies, the weight of the developing world is increasing. Developing countries are now the majority at the WTO and exercise in their own right and when working together a significant negotiating block. This was reflected at Doha when it was accepted that the overall success of the negotiations depended on a satisfactory outcome to their development component.

A key outcome of the Doha meeting was a political declaration on the relationship between the trade related intellectual property agreement and public health in developing countries. Acknowledging the serious public health crisis afflicting many developing countries, in particular, HIV-AIDS, Ministers agreed that public health concerns should override the issue of patent laws. They also agreed that the rules governing the import by developing countries of patented drugs should be relaxed sufficiently to allow them access to cheap medicines to fight diseases such as HIV-AIDS and malaria.

Ireland has an important role to play in the WTO negotiations at EU and global levels in ensuring a just and equitable outcome. Such an outcome is sought for all countries and, in particular, the least developed countries. Often these poorer countries lack the resources to fully articulate and advance their national interests in this process. It would make no sense if Ireland, while being generous in its contributions to development co-operation and placing a sharp focus on poverty reduction, failed to follow this strategy to its logical conclusion. This means striving to ensure global trade is an equally effective tool in the fight against poverty in developing countries.

Developing countries have the potential to earn from trade many times what they obtain in official development assistance. Consequently, I strongly believe they must be supported towards their fullest participation on an equal and fair basis in the global market if the millennium development goal of combating poverty is to be achieved by its target date. Ireland, with its EU partners, has implemented a number of specific measures to further develop trade with developing countries. The Cotonou partnership agreement provides for economic partnership agreements between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific, ACP, states.

EPAs, the subject of ongoing negotiations, are a new type of multilateral agreement intended to combine trade and wider development issues in a unified framework promoting regional integration. I have consistently stated the development aspects of these agreements must take priority.

Under the Everything But Arms initiative agreed by the European Union in February 2001, the least developed countries, within and outside the ACP group, have gained duty and quota free admission to the EU market for all but two products. Access is being achieved on a phased basis by 2009 for rice and sugar. This initiative was a particularly significant breakthrough for the least developed countries, as it offered free market access in areas such as agricultural and textile products in which they are most likely to be competitive. These demand side initiatives are very important. However, we also have to look at the supply side. Improved market access is needed in order that the share of developing countries in international trade can grow. Developing countries need assistance to build facilities and systems for producing, delivering and selling goods and services. They need aid for trade, namely, aid focused specifically on trade capacity building. This need has been increasingly recognised at international level in recent years.

At the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong in 2005 the WTO launched an aid for trade initiative and EU member states pledged to increase their collective aid for trade spending to €2 billion a year by 2010. Ireland is playing its part in these WTO and EU aid for trade initiatives. Our aid for trade support to international and local trade initiatives increased from €6.4 million in 2006 to more than €11 million in 2007. Our multilateral budget supporting the major, mainly Geneva-based, international organisations involved in trade related technical assistance has also grown. We will spend €9 million in 2008 as compared with €6 million in 2007.Last year more than €1 million was paid directly to the WTO programmes which provide technical assistance to build trade capacity in developing countries, including the WTO mission internship programme which has a positive impact in directly reinforcing developing country trade delegations at the WTO, and the WTO standards and trade development facility which assists developing countries to enhance their expertise and capacity to analyse and implement international sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards. This improves their human, animal and plant health and thus, their ability to gain and maintain market access.

Last year Irish Aid allocated €3.8 million to programmes in which the WTO is a partner, including the integrated framework. This groups the six major international agencies involved in the provision of technical assistance for developing countries for trade related purposes. The agencies are the International Monetary Fund, the International Trade Centre, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, the WTO and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The integrated framework seeks to integrate trade with the poverty reduction strategies of least developed countries. It achieves this through the co-ordinated delivery of trade related technical assistance in response to needs identified by the least developed countries. Ireland has worked closely with fellow donors to fill identified gaps in the area of trade related capacity building. We were among the founder members of the advisory centre on WTO law which provides legal training, support and advice on WTO law and dispute settlement procedures for developing countries. We also joined the initial agreement establishing the agency for international trade information and co-operation. The agency provides valuable practical assistance for developing countries by providing information and advice on developments in the WTO. In a very practical way, it also provides temporary office space for least developed countries without representation in Geneva and gives them training in negotiation skills. This is very important.

As I mentioned, we are planning to increase our multilateral spend to €9 million this year. The money will go to mainly Geneva-based organisations delivering trade related technical assistance. As outlined by the Taoiseach at the EU-Africa summit last December, Ireland is committed to a considerable scaling up of our aid for trade related assistance targets for the African continent. We are also keen to share knowledge and experience of private sector development. In that regard, Irish Aid supports a not-for-profit organisation, TRAIDLINKS, which is connecting the African producer and the Irish supplier to ensure African products can enter the Irish market.

Returning to the WTO negotiations, there are a number of issues of particular concern to developing countries and those working towards a more just and equitable global trade system. Delivering on the development dimension of the Doha Development Agenda, DDA, will require enhanced market access for developing countries across the core areas of the negotiations in agriculture, non-agricultural market access and services. There is potential, within the context of the agriculture negotiations, for a successful outcome to support cotton producing developing countries, particularly least developed countries and net exporters. Special and differential, S and D, treatment provisions which can be included in WTO agreements to take into account the interests of least developed countries, in addition to those of developing countries, are also crucial to the success of the round from a development perspective. Developing countries are seeking more precise, effective and binding S and D provisions. Other important development aspects of the negotiations include making rules of origin more development friendly, which we support. We also want to improve the dispute settlement understanding to make it easier for developing countries to use.

Trade facilitation involves improving procedures and controls governing the movement of goods across national borders to reduce costs and burdens. In the trade facilitation negotiations the enhancement of technical assistance and capacity building for developing countries was listed as a specific goal of the negotiations exercise. Last year the WTO launched a trade facilitation national needs assessment trust fund, to which Ireland has contributed €150,000.

Developing countries have also made proposals to address their concerns regarding implementation issues arising from the Uruguay Round agreements. An example is proposals intended to give longer transitional periods to developing countries to implement their obligations, which we support. Ireland has also sought to give a strong pro-poor perspective to the Doha Development Agenda. This will continue as the negotiations intensify in Geneva in the coming weeks. Ireland remains strongly committed to the development dimension of the Doha Round.

I understand Deputy Sheehan is sharing time with Deputy D'Arcy.


It is of paramount importance that Ireland's main objective is to ensure any final agreement can be accommodated without further reform of the CAP. If Irish agriculture is to survive, we must preserve the CAP. There should be a balanced agreement between the various elements of the overall negotiations. Agriculture should not carry a disproportionate burden in finalising a new agreement. It is not acceptable that concessions in agriculture should be the price for achieving progress elsewhere.

There should be a balance between the elements of domestic support, export subsidies and market access in the agriculture negotiations. The emphasis should not be on any one aspect, in particular on market access. In respect of domestic support, it is of vital importance to ensure that decoupled direct payments continue to qualify as the WTO green box classification and so remain exempt from reductions under the new round. The Irish position must be adamant on that matter as far as our farmers are concerned.

As regards market access, our aim should be to retain a realistic and effective level of protection for producers and exporters. This should be done by ensuring that the two third deviation from normal tariff cuts will apply, minimising tariff expansion by use of partial designation at eight-digit level and by forcing changes in the calculation method for TRQ expansion, rejecting the latest Falconer proposals on quota under-fill, SSG and tariff simplification.

Other issues of vital importance include the issue of food security. Food security is not at the forefront of the agreement and does not appear to be a priority for Commissioner Mandelson. With the increase in world population, global climate changes and the prevalence of bio-fuels as an alternative land use, the WTO agreement is vital in securing food supplies into the future. We do not have to go that far back to remember that for many years after World War II, Great Britain had to continue food rationing and that without vital food supplies from Ireland at that time, might have had to continue it for many more years.

Our Irish negotiators must ensure that non-trade issues such as animal welfare are not prioritised. We have already seen potential problems arise in this area in respect of Brazilian beef. We need to ensure that these issues are considered seriously in the context of ongoing talks. The EU, and Ireland in particular, have a proud element of traceability as far as our food products are concerned. If there is going to be a free-for-all trade after this forthcoming WTO agreement, that element of sustainability must be taken into consideration. We should be committed to securing the best possible outcome for the agricultural sector in the EU. It is of vital importance that we take a stronger position nationally on this issue by sending a delegation to meet with the director-general of the WTO, Pascal Lamy. I understand that he is meeting with delegations from a number of EU states this week.

I emphasise that it is very important that relevant Cabinet Ministers and our Taoiseach row in behind the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and wield as many instruments as possible to steer this issue in the right direction for Ireland and our Irish farming interests. We do not contribute to the citrus fruit mountain and the wine lake in Europe. Agriculture is our main industry. When we entered the EU, we were told that we would become the bread basket of Europe. The situation today is very far from this scenario. If Commissioner Mandelson gets his way, agriculture is on a downward slope.

The WTO talks offer made by Commissioner Mandelson represents the greatest threat to European and Irish agriculture since our accession to the EU. The offer to reduce import tariffs in the EU by 70% would undermine milk and cereal production at a time when these two sectors are finally offering a decent return for producers following difficult years.

However, livestock, particularly sheep and cattle, is the area most exposed by this offer. Such a drop in tariffs would open the floodgates to produce from all over the world, with the current supply-demand balance and price being altered to such an extent that the viability of livestock production would be fatally compromised.

The proposed tariff cuts would see sides of beef coming into the EU at €2.20 per kilogramme, well below the current EU market price of €2.90. According to this morning's edition of The Irish Farmers Journal, the IFA’s highly respected chief economist, Mr. Con Lucey, has calculated that this could see beef imports rise to 2 million tonnes. The impact on the current Irish price would be a reduction of €1.38 cent per kilogramme. This is not sustainable. Such an offer would not be made by a lonely widow to George Clooney on a leap year day. It must be rejected.

Import tariffs may be regarded as trade distorting by pure economic theorists but the reality is that they barely compensate European producers for the high production costs imposed by the extremely high environmental, welfare and traceability standards of European food production. Nobody disagrees with these standards, which are to the benefit of consumers. We can proudly stand over the quality of our meat and milk. Consumers demand such high standards. European farmers do not use growth-promoting hormones, do not use BST to increase milk production and do not use genetically modified crops. They are required to invest in pollution control measures that are important for the environment but which are costly. The costs of these measures are not borne by competing producers elsewhere in the world.

Food security should be a high priority for Europe in these WTO talks. For the first time in 50 years, Europe has a food deficit. The rising worldwide demand for food has seen surpluses disappear and stocks fall dangerously low. I met with the ambassador of India a few weeks ago. He told me that every two months, the population of India increases by an amount equal to the population of Ireland. Every two months, India's population increases by 4.5 million people. The worldwide population increase is staggering.

Climate change, environmental damage and changing disease patterns mean that European producers and consumers are vulnerable to any unforeseen circumstances. Within the past three years, we have seen the vibrant sugar beet industry wiped out at the stroke of a bureaucratic pen in Brussels. Sugar on the supermarket shelf is no cheaper, Carlow and Mallow have lost their industrial hub and thousands of livelihoods have been diminished or lost.

Great Britain has long been out of step with the EU consensus and approach to food production. It has operated a cheap food policy since the glory days of the British empire. This approach has wrecked its agricultural economy and contributed to a penny-pinching attitude that has seen the family farm all but wiped out. BSE and foot and mouth disease are seen by many as the inevitable consequences of such an approach.

Commissioner Mandelson should not be allowed to adopt this attitude on behalf of European agriculture. Our Government should not hesitate to veto his offer on behalf of European food producers and consumers. We are embarking on a debate on the role of Europe in the EU reform treaty. Sometimes, being a good parent means being firm and saying "No, you cannot do that". As good Europeans, we must tell the Commission that it cannot undermine European food production. The only question that remains is whether we have the guts to do this or the political skills to build a blocking group within the Council of Ministers and Heads of State to reject this suicidal offer. The reputations of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and this Government are on the line. We cannot endorse the Mandelson position.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity of contributing to this debate on the World Trade Organisation. This is an important opportunity for all of us to respond, to lead and to come up with some creative ideas on trade, agriculture and the rapidly changing international scene. It also provides an opportunity to see the pitfalls and the need for radical, new ideas with regard to agriculture. We must think outside the box when it comes to our agricultural industry. I want to see an economic re-think because many of us have observed the shift to the extreme right which is damaging countries and the international economic order.

Change is needed. I agree with Barack Obama who constantly refers to change. He is correct in his view that we also need vision and hope for all people. More than 2,000 years ago Confucius said there were two types of people who do not change, the foolish and the dead. This applies to us all and in particular in the context of the World Trade Organisation and markets.

I suggest that when considering trade and our economy we look at the facts and pay less attention to the spin from some politicians and so-called political commentators. The level of employment growth is slowing down. Job gains were still being recorded in the Irish economy during 2007. The total number at work reached 2.139 million, an advance of 66,800 or 3.2% in the final quarter of 2007. However, not all sectors shared in job gains.

Employment levels fell in both construction and manufacturing last year. The construction force amounted to 284,600 workers, 13.7% of total employment but this dropped to 279,000. We must be active and creative when dealing with this issue. I raised these issues in my agreement with the Taoiseach regarding the development of the economy in the event of a down turn. It is important we look at these issues and target projects and investments in the building sector across the north side of Dublin. It is important to target community services and I welcome the €6 million granted yesterday by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for the clean up of Dublin bay.

It will come up in the WTO talks.

This is progressive and I commend the Minister for rolling out the funds to complete the final phase of cleaning up Dublin bay. Many people in Clontarf and Fairview are delighted with that.

It is change you can believe in.

Absolutely. The WTO is an organisation for liberalising trade, a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements, a place for them to settle trade disputes, and it operates a system of trade rules. The WTO is a forum where member governments attempt to solve trade problems with each other. This is a very important aspect of the WTO. It can use its clout when smaller countries come under pressure and can assist them by not hammering them economically. I refer in particular to the United States and its blockade of Cuba which is an international disgrace. A small country like Cuba is trying to change and develop but it is being hammered by its next door neighbour the USA. I urge the Minister to raise these issues at international level.

The WTO is the only international organisation dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. The result is assurance. Consumers and producers know that they can enjoy secure supplies and greater choice of finished products, components, raw materials and services. Producers and exporters know that foreign markets will remain open to them. The result is a more prosperous, peaceful and accountable economic world.

Virtually all decisions in the WTO are taken by consensus among all member countries and are ratified by the members' parliaments. Trade friction is channelled into the WTO's dispute settlement process where the focus is on interpreting agreements and commitments to ensure that countries' trade policies are in conformity with them. The risk of disputes spilling over into political or military conflict is thus reduced. It is important to reduce the potential for military conflict and we must remain vigilant on that issue. This is the reason many of us are concerned about these issues because they are coming down the tracks and we need to be creative in our response.

By lowering trade barriers the WTO system also breaks down the other barriers between peoples and nations. The heart of the system is known as the multilateral trading system. These are the WTO's agreements negotiated with and signed by a majority of the world's trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. These agreements are the legal ground rules for international commerce. They are contracts guaranteeing member countries important trade rights. They also bind governments to keep their trade policies within limits which is to everyone's benefit. The agreements were negotiated and signed by governments but their purpose is to help producers of goods and services and exporters to conduct their business in a positive way.

The outcome of the current negotiations will determine the maximum levels of protection support which will apply to the agricultural sector in the future. Given that the process of liberalisation will be significantly more advanced, the negotiations represent a real challenge to the future of Irish agriculture. I agree with some of the comments made earlier. I urge people to be sensitive and strong with regard to this issue.

The original GATT applied to agricultural trade but it contained some loopholes. It allowed countries to use subsidies and some non-tariff measures such as import quotas. Agricultural trade became highly distorted with the use of export subsidies which would not normally have been allowed for industrial products.

The Uruguay Round produced the first multilateral agreement dedicated to the sector. It was a significant first step towards order, fair competition and a less distorted sector. It was implemented over a six-year period and is still being implemented by developing countries under the ten-year period which began in 1995. The Uruguay Round agreement included a commitment to continue the reform through negotiations. These were launched in 2000 as required by the agricultural agreement. This is to do with fairer markets for farmers and it is not just a rural issue.

I represent an urban area but every Member of the Oireachtas has a responsibility to be supportive of farm families and the agricultural sector. Every Member of the Oireachtas should be behind this industry because of its importance. There is potential for further decline and we all have a responsibility.

I share the Minister's concern that the Commission has been adopting an unnecessarily concessionary approach to the negotiations. The Commission negotiates in the WTO on behalf of the member states on the basis of a mandate which is agreed in the Council of Ministers. I urge the Minister to be vigilant on this issue. The Minister is correct to be deeply concerned about the suggestion that the EU should provide further concessions on a range of agricultural issues, in particular, the level of tariff reductions, treatment of sensitive products and related tariff quota expansion. I do not find this acceptable and I agree with the Minister's earlier comments. She referred to the intensive discussions in Geneva on the text but many technical as well as political issues remain to be resolved. There should be cross-party support on this issue and we should row in behind the Minister with regard to this issue. As an Independent Deputy representing an urban area I will continue to push this issue and to be very supportive of agriculture. These are crucial issues.

We all have a duty to protect and develop our agricultural industry. We have a duty to assist farm families and these issues should be top of the political agenda.

I wish to share time with Deputy Connaughton.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Government Whip for agreeing to allow time for this debate. I sought this debate last Thursday because many things have happened regarding agriculture. Discussions were taking place outside but this House had no relevance to them. I am glad the Minister came here today and clearly laid out her stall. As Deputy Creed said, we do not have any major disagreement with her; it is the delivery that is all-important.

There is considerable anxiety among young farmers especially. They are making major investments at present, which is great. However, there is concern over what the future holds, particularly for the beef sector. It would be better to have no agreement than to have a bad agreement. The Common Agricultural Policy has been good for Ireland over the years. It has been altered dramatically with the MacSharry and other changes in more recent times. We now have direct payments rather than supports for the beef and dairy sectors. Following those direct payments, farmers must compete in world markets.

The main anxiety is that Commissioner Mandelson seems to have a free hand. It is unacceptable that a man with his attitude towards agriculture is negotiating on our behalf without being reined in. I am glad to have the opportunity not only to congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on her stand, but also to call on the Taoiseach and every member of his Cabinet to back her. Ultimately, it will be dealt with at Heads of Government level. The Taoiseach with all his contacts in Europe needs to work to ensure that Commissioner Mandelson is reined in and told how important agriculture is not just to Ireland, but to the entire European Community.

As other speakers have said, Europe used to have enormous surpluses, but not any longer. With the prices being paid in some sectors, the change is dramatic. The county I represent, Monaghan, accounted for 66% of all poultry production in the country. The poultry sector has been through dramatic times. Grove Turkeys is winding down its slaughtering capacity. Some 85 farmers just do not know where to go. Poultry farmers are seeing imports from Thailand, Brazil and elsewhere which have been produced under totally different conditions from those under which we must produce. That is the free trade against which they must operate. They are under strict veterinary control, but there is no veterinary control at European level. For example, if the European Union wants to sell beef to any third country we must accept the vets and personnel from that country on the line on the day and not one animal can be slaughtered without that person being present. However, we allow product into this country without any supervision other than spot inspections, advice of which is given in advance. Farmers would love those sorts of inspections. Irish farmers, especially the young ones, are concerned that the WTO talks will be handled by Commissioner Mandelson.

While the issue of labelling is not relevant to the WTO in one sense, it is relevant to people knowing the origin of the product and that it is a quality product. The Government needs to consider the matter very seriously.

The dairy sector has gone through a reasonably good time in the recent past. Again, the WTO will have serious implications for it. As Deputy Johnny Brady and other members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food can verify, we saw US dairy farmers using steroids in milk producing cows. While we do not want that, we want fair competition, which is why I insisted on having a debate on the WTO talks in this House. One must wonder if the talks are being held back to allow the referendum on the Lisbon treaty to take place first. The original IFA stance on the treaty was supportive. However, suddenly when the issue of the WTO talks arose, it decided that if the talks were not successful it would oppose the treaty. We need clarification from the IFA on the matter.

I wish to make a few fundamental points on the World Trade Organisation talks. The issue has been rumbling through here and through Europe for many years and it has many aspects. It is now reaching a crucial stage. In June 2007, in order to kick-start the process of trying to get agreement again, four major trading blocs met with representatives from the European Union, the United States, Brazil and India. They came together as the important partners in the process. I fully support the stance of our agriculture spokesman, Deputy Creed, that everything that can be done to back the Government and the Minister from this side of the House will be done provided that she delivers. In the company I mentioned, she is a very small player. When this decision will be finally made, she will not even be a member of the audience — it will be that far removed from us.

It is against that background that we have made our peace within the European Union at great sacrifice to every farmer not alone in Ireland, but right across Europe. Once that "Green Box" was closed up to 2013 and several other aspects agreed, that was to be our negotiating level. In other words, that was what the European Union claimed we would need to do to come into line with the requirements of the World Trade Organisation. We did that at tremendous sacrifice to every farmer in Europe, not only in Ireland. We then had the great misfortune to be represented by Commissioner Mandelson. I regard the Commissioner as a fox in charge of the hen house. I have no respect for him because he has a contrary view of what rural development is all about not only in Ireland, but throughout the European Union.

Regardless of how we manage it, we need to start at Heads of Government level. We would need to be like red flies, as they say — we should be all over the world at this stage. We should speak to the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Pascal Lamy, to ensure he understands that our interests are the interests genuinely held across Europe and not the ones enunciated by Commissioner Mandelson if he decides to go on a solo run. It has all the signs of it at every announcement that Commissioner Mandelson makes. He is a product of the old British rule that believed food could not come cheap enough. In other words, no matter how we get it and where it is produced and under what circumstances, it should be given to us cheap and we will take it. We all know that in this country because of the rules we have for food, it is as near to organic production as can be found. The problem in more recent years has been that farmers were losing money in production.

I do not believe those talks will conclude this year because of the American presidential election. However, when they do, I hope that Commissioner Mandelson's views will be sidelined. Ultimately, we in this country should be given the opportunity to be paid for the product that is grown on every acre of Irish land. The IFA did very well to stop the Brazilian imports. We should ensure that unless imports are of the same standard as we produce in the European Union they may not come in and if they do it should be at a significant price. I hope the Taoiseach will take this matter extremely seriously and that the Government jet will not stay on the ground this summer, but will fly all around Europe and America to ensure our views on this important issue are known.

I wish to share time with Deputy Mansergh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted to contribute to this debate. I wish the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, and the Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, well in the forthcoming world trade talks. The negotiations will be in safe hands with both Ministers involved.

I will concentrate on the beef sector, which is so important to rural Ireland, including my constituency. If Peter Mandelson gets away with his plan, our beef industry will be dead and so will rural Ireland. A competitive beef industry is central to a vibrant and sustainable agriculture sector. It contributes significantly to the country's economic growth and particularly its trade balance. It provides employment and is a key driver of investment especially in rural areas. The Minister's recognition of the sector's importance was clearly demonstrated by her establishment of the beef forum, which brings together representatives of all major stakeholders. Her attendance at the forum's first meeting yesterday was very important.

Our industry is recognised as one of the unrivalled success stories within the Irish agri-food sector. We produce over 500,000 tonnes of beef annually, with more than 90% of this exported. In 2007, beef exports were valued at almost €1.6 billion, making Ireland the largest net beef exporter in Europe or, indeed, in the northern hemisphere. This remarkable achievement is a testament to the efforts being made by all stakeholders in the industry: farmers, processors and sellers.

Irish beef is recognised internationally as a watchword for quality and excellence. This is a major contrast to the situation just a few short years ago when, with the loss of third country markets, the sector faced a significant threat. However, the industry and its stakeholders refused to lie down. Producers, processors and marketers combined their talents to promote actively Irish beef in new markets, identifying niche markets in particular.

Our industry recognises that consumer tastes continue to evolve and it has responded accordingly. The result is that over 90% of total beef exports go to the high-value internal EU marketplace. Last year, our beef exports to continental Europe, at some 235,000 tonnes, recorded their sixth consecutive year of growth. The retail and market spread which Irish beef now boasts within Europe are unique. Customers in these countries trust Irish beef and it is this trust that engenders product loyalty and a price premium in good times and bad.

We are all well aware of the current situation concerning Brazilian beef imports. I fully endorse the response of the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, to vote against the European Commission's proposal for a partial ban in December 2007.

It is not enough.

The Minister took that step because she was not happy with the Commission's proposal for a partial ban on the basis of information available at the time. What is happening now? As part of the arrangements under the partial ban, a number of Brazilian farms have been approved for export to the EU whereas the requirement should be that any such farms should first be approved by the food and veterinary office as meeting EU standards. This was the stance taken by the Minister when she voted against the Commission's proposal and this is what should now be happening.

The beef sector continues to face challenges. The evolving marketplace requires that all involved should be in a position to respond and meet these tests head on. Irish beef faces increased competitive pressures from South America in all of its key markets. The low-cost base and abundance of supply in Brazil and Argentina, in particular, continue to challenge Irish exporters.

The ongoing WTO negotiations are also crucial from Ireland's perspective, particularly with regard to beef, and it is vital for any agreement to recognise this. The Minister has acknowledged this in the past and I urge her to maintain this strong stance in the Council for as long as these WTO negotiations continue.

The price of feed materials worldwide has increased significantly over the last year and this is putting serious pressure on producers. This comes on top of ever-increasing costs in such areas as compliance with legislation on environmental protection and animal welfare, labour and various other overheads. These factors have impacted on the returns available to producers.

I welcome the frank assessment by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the WTO negotiating situation and also the presentation of the development dimensions by the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt. As practically the most globalised country in the world and also one with a strong agricultural interest, we are interested in a genuinely balanced outcome. By and large, so far, in previous GATT and WTO rounds that has been done in a reasonably satisfactory way.

The development dimension is also important but it should be stressed that the poorest APC countries have benefited very much from access to the CAP and to European markets. The issues are not really with those countries but with what one might call some of the much more advanced third countries.

As regards future beef imports, it is extremely important to have a level playing field so the same standards apply. Ireland is not as small a player as has been made out. We are at the core of an important alliance, including France and Poland. Other countries have also come in, as the Minister explained. There is deep distrust of the negotiations. Concessions have been made up front and when that happens there is always a danger that more will be demanded.

We do not have a very reassuring track record concerning Commissioner Mandelson in this country. I certainly remember the negotiations on police reform when we were assured that the Patten report was being implemented, when in fact much of it was being gutted. The work had to be redone after Mr. Mandelson had left. It is not too often that a Minister has to resign twice over issues of trust.

A third time might be lucky for us.

Based on an analysis of British politics, I have some doubts that Mr. Mandelson will be reappointed by the current prime minister, to whom he is not close. The question, however, is where the negotiations will be at that time. This issue was discussed recently at a meeting between members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and their Northern Ireland counterparts. I was stimulated by the discussion to make the point, which is a missing element in the argument, that it is all very well for us to lament the effects on our beef industry but we must also appeal to other people's interests. For centuries — before independence and partition, but also since then — we have been one of the principal suppliers to the British market. They have a high population of nearly 60 million and are unable to feed themselves. They should not think that an outcome that seriously damages the Irish agriculture industry will not have a direct impact on the security of food supply in Britain. Their interests are at stake in this, not just ours. There is a total underestimation across the water of the importance of the agriculture dimension of these negotiations. In a situation of climate change and where there are various security threats, a plentiful supply of food in close proximity is very important. In their dislike of the Common Agricultural Policy, the British are completely blind to where their own interests lie. We need to make that argument as well as underlining how much food they import from Ireland. In difficult situations in future they would be very glad to have that supply. If it is no longer there, however, the population of Great Britain will be in considerable difficulty.

I wish to share time with Deputy Pat Breen.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Having listened to the debate so far, it is interesting that for the first time since I came to the House, we are all talking from the one hymn sheet. It is a question of how we deliver a result for the Irish people and the citizens of Europe generally. Deputy Mansergh referred to the stimulating discussion that took place with our Northern Ireland counterparts this week. The points he raised were well made. Some 50 or 60 years ago, however, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the EU was founded on the basis of ensuring peace and security for the nations of Europe. One aspect of this was to ensure an adequate food supply. The Union now incorporates some 500 million people and we are no longer self-sufficient in food.

The Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Peter Mandelson, is operating on a mandate arising out of research that is seven years old, when food security and production was based on a different model to that which pertains today. CAP reform, various environmental schemes and an increased population have all contributed to lower agricultural production in the EU. The Commissioner's current proposals would take €40 billion out of the agri-food sector and render certain agricultural activities unviable. In such an eventuality, we could become entirely dependent on imported foods.

As I said last week, there is a danger that we will be 500 million people at the end of a gas line from Russia and a food line from God knows where. I am not sure where our food will come from. The Argentinian authorities, for example, are talking about limiting the amount of beef for export. They have already limited the quantity of grain exported with the objective of ensuring stability of food supply for their own population. The Indo-China area is increasing in affluence and its enhanced purchasing power will mean that much of the food that traditionally came to Europe from Australia and New Zealand will only travel as far as Indo-China where there will be people to buy it. Yet we are talking about further reducing food production.

We must all agree that the Government be charged with the responsibility of securing enough support from other Ministers and Governments to ensure Mr. Mandelson is brought to heel. One calls to mind the old saying that when one is in a hole one should stop digging. The Commissioner does not seem able to stop digging, however, and he has dug himself into a position from which it is impossible to extract himself. We have seen in negotiations in trouble spots worldwide that it is sometimes necessary for certain people to stand back and be replaced before progress can be made. I am strongly of the view that the same is true in this case, although it will be difficult to achieve.

We all agree that farming and the agri-food sector is in serious jeopardy. The message that must go out to the citizens of Europe is that their food supply is in serious jeopardy. In 1973, the average family grocery budget accounted for more than 35% of household income. This figure has decreased to less than 10%. People take food for granted and the amount that is wasted is vulgar. Food is considered cheap and accessible and no cause for concern. People must realise that it should not be taken for granted, just as we can no longer take petrol and other fuels for granted. We must sell this message. If we had a greater awareness in this regard, we would not be so free in relinquishing our agri-food industry and diminishing the security of our food supply.

As spokesperson on food for Fine Gael, I am obliged to reiterate how important it is that we not lose sight of this. We have developed an industry that is quality assured and traceable. The world market price about which we speak so much is the lowest common denominator and indicative of a race to the bottom. If food becomes scarce and we are not at least 80% to 90% self-sufficient, we will find ourselves at the mercy of the world market price. We will know all about it when it increases. Food is a basic necessity of life. There has been much discussion about agri-food and the effect on farmers. As a farmer, I understand that completely. However, it is important that we alert the citizens of Europe to the dangers to their food supply.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion on this motion, which was put forward by our agricultural spokespersons, Deputies Creed and Crawford. Since joining the EU in 1973 — or, as it was known then, the EEC — Ireland has benefited exceptionally well from its membership. Before that, our trade was dependent on our neighbour, the United Kingdom. Since joining the Union, we have opened up to new markets and trade. Irish food is some of the best produced in the EU. Over the period of our membership, we have received more from the EU than we have paid in, in the region of €55 billion. The EU has gone a long way to funding Irish life, particularly Irish farming.

As other speakers observed, the recent developments in the WTO talks are extremely worrying. The EU has given enough through the years. I am concerned at the scale and pace of the proposed reductions in domestic supports, especially in terms of the impact on the access to EU markets for agriculture and beef. We are all aware of the increase in imports from non-EU countries, particularly South America. Only last year, pig producers protested in Dublin at the amount of international pork products being sold here under an Irish label. We have given enough and must now protect what we have.

The Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Mandelson, who lost two Cabinet jobs in the British Government, seems to take no notice of the views of other member states. I urge the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to take a stronger stance on this issue. I make the same plea to the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy McGuinness, who is in the Chamber and who has represented Ireland at various meetings. I read recently that the French President, Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, has indicated his intention to oppose firmly any agreement that would sacrifice French and EU agricultural interests. The Taoiseach must take a stronger position on this issue. There are 130,000 farmers in the State but many will be forced to leave agriculture. Already the statistics show that only 15% of farmers are under 35 years of age.

In the context of the forthcoming referendum campaign on the Lisbon treaty, it is an unhelpful message to send out that Europe is not defending our cause at the WTO talks. This could influence the electorate and affect the outcome of the referendum. I urge the Taoiseach and his Ministers to be more vocal and to co-operate with our European counterparts to oppose these measures.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. Mr. Mandelson seems to be getting more mentions than either Mr. Sarkozy or Barack Obama, although I was glad to hear Deputy Finian McGrath declare his support for the latter.

Many issues could be raised in this debate. Deputies who listen to me speaking for one minute will know that I do not have a rural background. It may come as a surprise to some Deputies to learn that Tallaght in Dublin South West has a rural community. There is a small farming community and I take an interest in what it does. It is important that I support it on an occasion such as this.

I commend the Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, on the work he is doing, which does not always get headlines. I am glad Deputy Breen acknowledged it. A debate such as this gives Deputies an opportunity to highlight the Departments which are doing wonderful work but which do not get front page headlines. I am a supporter of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. With regard to remarks which have just been made, I am confident they will continue to fight Ireland's case. As we approach the referendum on the reform treaty, I am interested to hear Deputy Breen say it will be held in June. If he is correct, I congratulate him.

We do not know. That is the problem.

The Deputy has just announced that it will be held in June.

That is what we are told.

It is important that we focus on how good the European Union has been to us.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is a vice-president of the AWEPA, the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa, and chairman of its very busy Irish section. We had a very worthwhile meeting last night with guests from a number of African countries when issues relating to agriculture and food were raised. Unfortunately, many colleagues were unable to attend.

As I listened to the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt's remarks I considered the importance of the question of food in Ireland and Europe. If we face challenges in this regard, the people of Africa certainly do. It is important that we support them in this regard. Agriculture is the most climate sensitive of all industries and must be made sufficiently robust to withstand the effects of global warming. As I listened to Deputy McGrath I remembered a script sent to me by Senator Barack Obama of a speech he made on climate change. He made the point that we did not take climate change seriously and assumed that food would continue to be plentiful for the rest of time. In fact, we face a huge challenge. I am glad people, including the next President of the United States, are taking an interest in these matters. It is good that we, on a Thursday afternoon with a packed Visitors Gallery of students from schools throughout the region, take the opportunity to support what is being said and done in this regard. This subject might not get headlines but it is an important one.

I am no more interested in food than anyone else. However, I had a health scare about nine years ago when I had a heart bypass operation. At the time I thought about many things, including my attitude to food. I have since tried to eat more fish, chicken and vegetables. A debate such as this brings the importance of such issues home to us all.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to deal with some of the issues raised in the course of this debate and to address the issue of the world trade talks and their progress to date. The debate has been constructive and worthwhile. It shows that the House can have a function in the course of current events, deliberate on the issues which concern us and have an effective input into the work of Departments. In that regard, this debate is very worthwhile. It is good to hear Members from all parties express support for the efforts being made to ensure we get a fair and balanced deal in the WTO negotiations.

I thank the officials involved in this work. While the debate has now moved to the centre of the political stage, for years work has been undertaken by officials through the Article 133 committee and a number of others. They continue to engage with officials throughout Europe to learn the up-to-date position and understand what is happening in the world trade talks.

As Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I am responsible for trade and commerce. My background is business. I come from a constituency where Glanbia-Avonmore is located, which has strong agricultural roots and is very much involved in business. I see at first hand the need to have a balanced outcome to the talks. I see the need for a positive outcome to the current round of World Trade Organisation talks to ensure rules and regulations and a framework for business are established.

The other part of my brief takes me across the world to promote Irish companies and ensure they get a foothold in other economies where they can ensure their goods and services are sold at a competitive rate, that our services are developed, that the jobs created in Ireland are sustainable and that we can grow markets throughout Europe and the world. Because of the WTO talks, regulations and the existence of a framework I have seen Irish companies access markets where it would otherwise have been extremely difficult to gain a foothold. That underlines for me the need for a positive outcome to the talks. In countries as diverse as Russia, Dubai, Abu Dabi or the United Arab Emirates Irish companies are establishing a foothold and being recognised and respected for the trade in which they are engaged. The Irish diaspora have ensured Irish companies, when represented abroad, are supported. They assist them to make contacts, establish business partnerships and conduct the trade which is necessary to ensure our exports are maintained at a sustainable level and will create and sustain jobs in Ireland. That is why the WTO is so significant for us.

In the last three weeks I have travelled all over Europe to meet the WTO, Mr. Pascal Lamy, Mr. Peter Mandelson and other trade Ministers. I met the chairmen of each of the pillars of the WTO before the texts were written. I impressed on them Ireland's concerns, not only with regard to agriculture but also with regard to non-agricultural market access, services, rules and trade facilitation. I insisted that they take note of the Irish position in the context of Europe and its trade with the rest of the world. Small countries have a say.

I must correct Deputy Connaughton's remark that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is just one person in a very big pool. In our discussions with the French Minister, Mr. Michel Barnier, I saw a strong relationship with senior Ministers from big countries within Europe, an understanding on their side of the Irish position and a willingness to engage with us in the protection, not only of Irish agriculture, but also of business generally in Ireland. The position of Germany was the same when I met with the German trade secretary, Dr. Pfaffenbach. The support for Ireland is there and it is not as if just one man — Peter Mandelson — is the issue. I have heard much criticism of him in this House, although I found him a charming gentleman who was willing to listen but perhaps was not supportive of our position.

Notwithstanding Mr. Mandelson's position, it should be up to us to impress on him what we need within the context of WTO for Ireland and its agriculture and business. Most of the debate today centred on agriculture but we must look at the need for this country to have open market access in the developing countries and ensure our Irish companies are willing and able to trade in those markets without hindrance. They should be able to get a foothold where they normally might not if these regulations and agreements were not in place.

We should do this in the context of what is happening in India, China and other major countries so we can access them. We must understand the pillar of these negotiations relative to rules and dumping, as that is a significant issue for the country.

I have a difficulty with these talks in that we are expected to take on the agricultural text and the non-agricultural market access text, with all the other pillars falling into place, such as services, trade facilitation, rules and so on. That is not the way I would do business. My background is in business and when I sit down to deal with somebody in the marketplace, I like to see the colour of their money and what is on offer right across the spectrum of that deal. We do not have that on this occasion, although we have the modalities within agriculture and the setting out of the text in terms of NAMA. There is little or nothing in the NAMA text that would encourage me to do a blind deal on the other pillars. We want to develop services within Europe, particularly within Ireland, against stiff competition and there is nothing in the services text supporting our case. Rules are not even spoken about.

Nobody speaks about the next aspect of the deal, trade facilitation, yet in terms of exports we need all that in place. I am not prepared to subscribe to a deal concerning only agriculture, and dealing with it, as it does, in a negative way by cutting back where we stand on the Common Agricultural Policy. Agriculture is made up of trade and commerce and we must look at what is happening in other countries in that respect. We must understand our position in such a context. I pay tribute to the IFA and members such as Michael Treacy, Michael Berkery and Padraig Walshe, as well as beef exporters in IBEC. They have given a serious commitment to the World Trade Organisation and the current level of talks. They have been at the coalface insisting that Ireland's position be recognised within Europe, that trade be protected and that agriculture and the 2005 Hong Kong mandate be acknowledged.

In my opinion, Mr. Mandelson has gone way beyond the mandate given to him. It is up to Ireland and other European countries, such as the strong presences of France and Germany, to insist on telling Mr. Mandelson he has gone beyond that mandate and that he return to the mandate he was given. If that turns out to be the case, Ireland will protect what it has and do well within agriculture. Once we do that, we must look at what is on offer across the other three pillars. Currently, there is nothing on offer to convince me we should do a deal.

Turning specifically to agriculture, I will speak on the Brazilian position. Brazilian beef has been banned but how long will it take those big ranchers to get to the point where they again meet European Union standards? I suggest it will not be very long, and that they are nearly at that mark now. If, in the context of the agricultural text, they begin to export their product again, we will find 300,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef in the European market, which will undoubtedly have a relative effect on Ireland and the promotion of our beef. It will damage the beef industry, something we cannot tolerate. I have stated directly to Mr. Mandelson that we will not tolerate what is currently on offer.

Another figure in the agricultural text indicates 2 million tonnes of butter is consumed in Europe each year. At present, 75,000 tonnes comes in from New Zealand and, according to what is on offer, 175,000 tonnes will be introduced to the European market. That is an industry we must protect. There is nothing available to us.

In the pigmeat sector a farmer can lose €12 to €20 per head. Beet has gone from the Irish scene. Most Irish agricultural activity is not just under threat, as people are going out of business and cannot sustain their position within the sector. That was explained not just to Mr. Mandelson but to Mr. Lamy and the other trade ministers who have genuine concerns about the direction these talks are taking.

Our Government position must be to continue to insist on our position within Europe and to have a strong European deal done for us. I have stated publicly that no deal is better than the deal on the table currently. Through my discussions with the trade ministers, the WTO and Mr. Mandelson, I have heard the word legacy used. It is used in the context of a legacy for the American Presidency, a legacy for Mr. Lamy or a legacy for Mr. Mandelson. In my opinion, that factor has no place whatever in the deal and should not even be considered. A deal is about what is good economically for the countries which subscribe to the WTO. That is where the concentration of energy should be and what the deal should be all about. We should consider how the deal can best give access to all of the other world markets.

There is pressure on food. Taking the consumption of meat in China alone, the population continues to increase at an expanding pace and Chinese people will increase consumption from ten kilos of meat per person now to 55 kilos of meat as that economy grows. That will put on significant pressure. The example of such people drinking a pint of milk per day has been suggested, which will also have a major impact on world markets. We need a framework within agriculture to deal with all of what is on offer.

The role of the Minister or myself as Minister of State with responsibility for trade and commerce, the Taoiseach and other senior Ministers has been mentioned by the Opposition. Not a day goes by without senior Ministers and officials engaging on the current status of the world trade talks. It is wrong to say they are being put off because we will be dealing with a referendum.

French local elections will not finish until 16 March and there is no doubt Mr. Sarkozy is taking a particular interest in agriculture within France and the impact of these discussions on the outcome of those elections. The position is similar with Germany and parallels can be drawn between the referendum here and elections in Spain, or presidential elections. There is a considerable amount of work, leaving aside those public votes, to bring about what must be achieved in a final deal within the WTO.

My suggestion is that we put our support behind the Taoiseach and Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as well as other Ministers involved in these discussions. We must insist on putting our view across to the media and Europe in general that we are unanimous in believing the present deal is not balanced and could not be sold to the Irish electorate if required. It is not a deal we can subscribe to, not just because of the agriculture element but because the other three pillars are not concluded. We do not have the text and they do not appeal to the Irish business person or individuals or enterprises engaged in agriculture. That is the message which must go out from here. It is up to us to encourage our partners in Europe and those who support us to tell Peter Mandelson that this is our position. We need a deal in Europe but it cannot be any kind of deal. It must stand up and be implementable across the four pillars of the talks.