Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Beef Industry

Deputy Carey has permission from Deputy Heydon to introduce his question.

Martin Heydon


49. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of the new aid package for beef farmers based on EU exceptional aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28264/19]

Aindrias Moynihan


50. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which he plans to administer the recently announced EU beef fund; when farmers can expect payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28261/19]

Bobby Aylward


53. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the distribution of the €100 million Brexit fund for farmers will be subject to preconditions and or specific categories of farmers such as beef finishers as has been reported; if the fund will be available to farmers at stages along the beef chain (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28230/19]

Éamon Ó Cuív


56. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if in the submission submitted to the EU Commission by his Department for special assistance due to the beef price crisis, a proposal was made do reduce the suckler cow herd; if so, the details of such a proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28082/19]

Lisa Chambers


62. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of the €50 million fund announced to help farmers cope with the impact of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25181/19]

Thomas Byrne


81. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the latest EU-Mercosur talks; when payments will issue under the EU beef compensation fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28254/19]

Martin Kenny


83. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when beef farmers will receive money from the €100 million beef Brexit fund; the terms and conditions of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28157/19]

Aindrias Moynihan


87. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when he plans to meet the farming stakeholders to discuss the recently announced EU beef fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28262/19]

Willie Penrose


88. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if there will be no compulsory reduction of cattle numbers linked to the €100 million Brexit emergency package; when it is intended that farmers will be paid the funds arising from the package; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28078/19]

This question is to ask the Minister the details of the new aid package for beef farmers based on EU exceptional aid and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 49, 50, 53, 56, 62, 81, 83, 87 and 88 together.

I am keenly aware that the past few months have been very challenging for beef farmers in particular, following a difficult year for farm incomes in 2018 due to weather conditions. There was a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices lasting from autumn 2018 to spring 2019, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance.

The recent announcement by Commissioner Hogan of EU exceptional aid for the Irish beef sector is very welcome in this context. I have been making the case for some time for an exceptional aid package from the EU Commission for Irish beef farmers, at EU Council of Agriculture Minister meetings, and in direct consultation with the Commission. The submission made by my Department to the EU Commission in request of the aid package is available on my Department's website: https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmingsectors/beef/

I confirm to Deputy Ó Cuív that it did not request in any way, shape or form a reduction in suckler cow numbers.

This exceptional aid has been granted by the European Commission on the basis that the Irish beef sector is heavily reliant on export markets and is uniquely exposed to shifts in the UK market, in particular. Additionally, Ireland's extensive beef system, with its comparatively long production cycle, presents challenges in responding to market shifts. The Commission has also recognised that it is in the interests of the market stability of the EU beef sector to avoid a situation where downward price pressure on Irish beef spills over to other member states.

This temporary exceptional aid provision is given effect through a Commission implementing regulation. This regulation, the draft of which is available on the Commission's website, will be published soon.

Article 1.3 of the implementing regulation provides as follows:

The measures taken by Ireland shall be aimed at reducing production or restructuring the beef and veal sector and one or more of the following objectives:

(a) implementation of quality schemes in the beef and veal sector or projects aiming at promoting quality and value added;

(b) boosting market diversification;

(c) protecting and improving the farmers’ environmental, climate and economic sustainability.

Ireland must notify the Commission, no later than 31 July, of the measures to be taken in accordance with the regulation. My Department is working on the detailed parameters of an exceptional aid scheme in co-operation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the European Commission. Further details of the aid scheme will be announced in due course following the appropriate stakeholder consultation.

I welcome the Minister’s efforts in that regard. While the package is welcome, I have been told that the factories should not be the main beneficiaries of it. Will the Minister indicate that that will not be the case? Suckler cow and finisher farmers should be the primary and sole beneficiaries of the package. It is important that the terms and conditions of the scheme be correct. Will the Minister give more details of what has been done in the stakeholder consultation process? How confident is he that he will have it finished and the measures agreed to with the industry by the end of July?

I have stated repeatedly that the money is for farmers. That is my intention. Within that category, I see two distinct beneficiaries, namely, finishers and suckler cow farmers. The submission to the Commission makes clear our thinking in that context. The case is made on the relative hit both sectors took in comparison with what happened in the previous 12-month period. From memory, the quantifiable losses were approximately €67 million on the finishers' side and €35 million on the suckler cow farmers' side. The submission has been made and it is my clear intention that the beneficiaries will be farmers only. It would be incorrect to have terms and conditions before we have the consultation process. It will take place shortly. The ambition is to have that engagement lead to the formation of a scheme. It is intended to have it approved by the Commission by the end of July. Thereafter, we will invite and process applications. It is intended to get payments out as quickly as possible in 2019. It is a challenging timeline, but we are doing our best to meet it.

Beef farmers have been under phenomenal pressure for the past year, with Brexit impacting severely on the sector. There has been a 25% reduction in beef prices and incomes. Last week’s Mercosur deal put the tin hat on it. The Minister can understand why anybody involved in the beef sector is angry and under pressure. The scheme was initially announced before the local and European Parliament elections and appeared to be a Brexit relief scheme to aid farmers. Now it is being linked more with reducing production. At what point did the Minister become aware of that element of the scheme? Was it part of the original submission or more recent? While the consultations are ongoing and due to finish shortly, has the Minister set a timeline for when farmers will be paid the money? Will it be paid in the third or fourth quarter of this year? Are funds in place to the make the payments this year?

On the terms and conditions and supply reduction, I point the Deputy to my original reply. Our submission is on the Department’s website. It contains no proposals for supply reduction. That is a term and condition attached by the Commission. We became aware of it once it was published by the Commission. In previous interventions under the Common Market organisation, CMO, regulation, supply reduction was an instrument used by the Commission to address difficulties in the marketplace. I presume it is connected to the economic laws of supply and demand. Kill levels in the beef industry are high and there has always been a market issue once the level moves above 32,000 or 33,000.

One of the other issues with which we are dealing is Brexit. A hard-deal Brexit will have a different and significant impact. However, we are also dealing with the competitive challenges arising from the currency difficulties.

The Minister has said he only became aware of the proposal to reduce production when the Commission published the regulation. Is he stating categorically that there was no tic-tacking with the Department about the proposal until the Commission published the regulation? Once again, we are being shown discourtesy by the European Commissioner, Mr. Phil Hogan. The Minister has been given a scheme, about which the Commissioner conveniently forgot to tell us before the recent elections, which requires a reduction in production. Will he give us some indication of his thought processes in that regard?

My thought process is that it is manageable. We managed it in the dairy industry without damaging the sector and can also manage it in the beef sector. The Department has extraordinary levels of data for stocking densities on all farms. By the creative management of individual farmers’ stocking requirements, it is possible to deal with the issue in a way that will not inflict any long-term structural damage to supply in the beef industry. The first we became aware of the reduction issue was when the Commission published its terms and conditions. As I said, our proposal which is on the Department’s website is clear in quantifying the scale of the challenge and contains no reference whatsoever to supply reduction.

When will beef farmers receive money from the €100 million Brexit beef fund? What will be the terms and conditions of the scheme?

The conditionality set by the Commission is in the public realm, but the scheme has yet to be devised. The schemes we have devised, including the beef environmental efficiency programme, are straightforward. Our ambition will be to have the scheme as straightforward as possible for those who have taken the hit, namely, finishers and those who suffered back along the line in producing weanlings with the prices reflected in their sale. The scheme will be devised following the engagement with stakeholders. It will then be approved by the Commission and followed by the invitation of applications. Payments will be made as quickly as possible.

It is important that the Minister outline a timeframe for the scheme and when farmers can expect to receive payments under it.

Earlier I asked the Minister to lay out a timeline for when farmers could expect to receive payments under the scheme.

Is funding in place to pay it this year? Does the Minister envisage having that fund or ensuring that farmers receive cheques in quarter three or four of this year? I understand consultation is ongoing and that much of the next number of weeks will be focused on that but the Minister will have all the information and consultation he needs finished by August. Surely then a timeline must be set out regarding when those payments will be issued.

I understand that the submission in April referred to by the Minister set out one of the conditions as being the application of extensive production methods. What was meant by that? Does it mean that the smaller-scale farmer will go away? What was intended by that?

Could the Minister clarify what he means by the term "application of extensive production methods"? Is he saying that the more intensive beef farmers will take the hit? Is that the suggestion? What does it mean because it seems to open a door for the response the Minister got from the EU?

I would like some clarity regarding suckler cow farmers. We understand that a large portion of this fund would probably go to the finisher. The Minister mentioned what would happen down the line but often times its a case of wait horse and get grass and they seldom get fed. That is the problem here. Will a specific portion of this money be allocated? What pro rata amount will it be? Will it be 2:1 or a 50:50 split between the finishers and the suckler cow farmers?

I will start with the last question. The submission we made to the Commission quantified the relative hits that finishers and producers of weanlings, particularly from the suckler herd, had taken. While I do not want to stand up here and say I have the scheme now, broadly speaking, that will be reflected in the final shape insofar as targeting the €100 million where the hit impacted most. My recollection is that the figures in the finisher and suckler area are €67 million and €35 million. Let us wait and see what happens subject to consultation and approval by the Commission, which is a critical hurdle.

My ambition is to do it as quickly as possible. I do not underestimate the challenge in terms of designing a scheme and giving farmers an appropriate time to apply bearing in mind that the scheme will, hopefully, over the line from Brussels. The deadline is 31 July. We will then put together the necessary administrative arrangements to invite applications, a closing date, processing of applications, a payment system and the back office requirements in terms of systems to support the payment and processing of all those applications. This is not an insignificant task but it is certainly my ambition to do it at the earliest possible date in 2019.

Regarding Deputy Ó Cuív's question about intensive or extensive, the measure will deliver support where losses were felt. They are in both intensive and extensive systems and I hope would be reflected in that context. The ambition is to focus the resource wherever the hit was felt be it anybody who sold finished cattle regardless of whether that was an extensive system of finishing, or anybody who reared sucklers regardless of whether that was a highly stocked intensive system or an alternative system bearing in mind that the average suckler herd is 15 suckler cows which broadly speaking is not considered to be an intensive system of production.

Felling Licences

Thomas P. Broughan


51. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of tree felling licences issued in each year since 2014, the number of trees felled in each year, the proposed contribution to the climate action plan 2019 targets from hedgerows and tree cover here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28120/19]

I wish to ask the Minister about the number of tree felling licences issued in each year since 2014 and what role he thinks trees and hedgerows can play in the climate action plan. I know it is governed by the Forestry Act 2014. The question is prompted by the fact that quite a few constituents have contacted me about people moving into a property and immediately cutting down major tree cover. There seems to be no control over that whatsoever. Many agencies do not have to get permission from the Forest Service to do so.

The felling and thinning of trees is an activity that is governed by the Forestry Act 2014 and the accompanying forestry regulations of 2017. My Department is the consent authority for the issuing of felling licences and does so in accordance with detailed procedures that take account of relevant environmental regulations and the principles of sustainable forest management. There are certain exemptions under the Forestry Act, including, for example, felling in urban areas or felling of individual trees in certain circumstances.

The number of felling and thinning licences issued since 2014 is as follows. In 2014, 2,390 licences were issued; in 2015, 2,518 licences were issued; in 2016, 6,514 licences were issued; in 2017, 3,003 licences were issued; in 2018, 3,603 were issued; and to date in 2019, 2,948 licences have been issued. It is not possible to give a precise estimate of the number of trees felled in any one year under licence as this will depend on the area of the forest being felled, the species being managed, the age of the crop and the type and nature or cycle of the silvicultural interventions. This is influenced by whether it is a first, second or later stage thinning or clearfell and-or whether the forest is managed under a continuous cover management system.

The licensing process makes it obligatory to replant a clearfelled site in forests in all but the most exceptional cases. This avoidance of deforestation is essential in terms of meeting our climate change objectives. The climate action plan 2019 recognises the key role afforestation has to play in climate change mitigation particularly through carbon sequestration. Under current rules agreed as part of the EU effort sharing regulation, forestry can contribute some 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 per annum of carbon towards Ireland's emissions targets under the next climate mitigation period 2021 to 2030. The climate action plan now sets a target of an average of 8,000 hectares of new planting per year. While this will mostly yield benefits in the longer term post-2030, it will also contribute to our 2030 target through carbon sequestration.

My Department has approved an average of 9,000 hectares for new planting each year for the last three years. This means that there are almost 10,000 approved and shovel-ready hectares available to the forestry sector that could be planted today. The challenge is to ensure that all of the effort that goes into securing and approving new sites results in those sites being planted if planting levels are to increase and the target of 18% land cover is to be achieved. I am committed to working towards this target through the continued provision of generous grants and premiums, engagement with a range of stakeholders from farmers to public bodies and a dedicated promotion and communication campaign and by examining ways in which farm forestry can be better integrated into the new CAP. Knowledge transfer programmes and other initiatives that raise awareness of the economic and ecosystem benefits of forestry will continue to play an important role in tackling some of the barriers to planting. Hedgerows are an important landscape feature that have been supported by various agri-environment schemes over the years. In fact, my Department has facilitated the planting of around 11,000 km of new hedgerows and the rejuvenation of some 6,000 more under successive agri-environment schemes.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

These hedgerows could possibly represent a significant carbon sink and could potentially be used as a mitigation option. In view of this, the climate action plan commits to ensuring that local authorities extend hedgerow surveys nationwide. Once these are completed by 2020, the Government will commission a study to quantify the climate mitigation and adaptation potential of this resource by 2021.

The Minister mentioned the planting of 10,000 hectares per year - 22,000 hectares in all. How does that fit into the overall targets under the climate action plan because clearly it has a key role? This is a significant issue even when we discuss the Mercosur trade deal on the broader international scale involving climate change involving as it does the fact that Brazilian agriculture is devastating one of the great forestry resources in the world.

Does the Minister think that planning permission should be required for major cutting of trees in urban areas? I also note that the Government's felling and reforestation policy does not cover a range of national agencies such as Bord Gáis, Aer Rianta and CIÉ. There seems to be great scope for organisations to be able to just remove trees. As the Minister is aware, there is considerable controversy over BusConnects in Dublin city because it is feared that around 5,000 trees, including 700 or so in my constituency of Dublin Bay North, could be demolished.

This will result in a loss of carbon sequestration and mitigation.

The Deputy will forgive me if I am not familiar chapter and verse with BusConnects. However, there is an increasing awareness in society generally and in public bodies of the requirement to do the right thing by the environment. Broadly speaking, I have found local authorities to be aware of tree management in urban settings. Sometimes the awareness is not communicated in terms of the rationale behind some of the interventions they make.

On hedgerows, the climate action plan commits to ensuring local authorities extend hedgerow surveys nationwide. When these are completed in 2020, the Government will commission a study to quantify the climate change mitigation and adaptation potential of this resource by 2021. The Deputy is right that we are concerned that we are missing our afforestation targets and anxious to make more progress in that area in the context of the next Common Agricultural Policy because afforestation is a critical element of that.

I grew up in a rural area. It is unbelievable that we do not have even a rough estimation of the extent of our hedgerow cover, although 600,000 km has been suggested. Hedgerows could potentially sequester between one tenth and half of a megatonne of CO2, which could make a very significant contribution towards our overall mitigation figures in respect of agriculture in general. We have not thrown that figure into the equation when discussing the matter in Europe and so forth. Is it not important for us to get the right figures so that we know the extent of the country's hedgerow cover?

Clearly we should have very ambitious targets in forestry and in building up the number of urban trees. I understand London has a target of planting 1 million trees in the next couple of years. All our urban areas, including Dublin, Cork and Waterford, should have similar targets to help the national effort and to mitigate carbon in the general area of agriculture.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae missed his priority question on beef. He has told me he has a short supplementary question on forestry. It has to be on forestry.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me permission.

This is a debate I have had with the Minister already. Despite the Government's climate action plan, not enough is being done to encourage people to plant forestry. The period has been reduced from 20 years to 15 years. The grant involved does not cover the cost of planting a forest, fencing it and fertilising it in the same way as it did in the past. The Minister has a look on his face as if I am wrong; I am actually factually correct. I have spoken to foresters this morning who would back up what I am saying. Not enough is being done to encourage people. They no longer have incentives that existed in the past. What is the Minister proposing to do about that?

I do not often have the opportunity to engage with Deputy Broughan on agriculture questions. It is useful to exchange information because there is a view that the agricultural sector is indifferent to biodiversity and is facilitated by a Department that also does not have an interest in it. However, nothing could be further from the case. Under the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, we have supported the planting of 11,000 km of hedgerows. In the area of biodiversity, we support 20,000 ha of wild bird cover. All this is about biodiversity and the environment, and things farmers are actively doing in managing the landscape and delivering.

We need to do more on the narrative around forestry. I take the point Deputy Michael Healy-Rae makes. We recently reviewed the existing forestry programme and will be introducing a new one. Regrettably the narrative on forestry in rural areas is not a positive one, as the Deputy and I both know given where we come from. However, we need to get the message across that food production emits greenhouse gases meaning we need to do that as efficiently as we can. We need to sequester as much carbon as we possibly can. That can be done through appropriate soil management and also through afforestation. That means looking at the incentives and also using the next CAP to deliver in that regard.

Beef Industry

Eamon Scanlon


52. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to reduce the suckler cow herd to facilitate the expansion of the dairy herd; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28218/19]

The Minister has answered most of the questions I had. I represent the north west, where 95% of the farming is suckler cow farming. There is serious concern that the suckler farmer will lose out at the expense of the dairy industry. In my area dairy farming is impossible because the farms are so scattered with small fields. What are the Minister's views on that?

I have no plans to reduce the suckler cow herd to facilitate the expansion of the dairy sector. Decisions to expand or reduce herd sizes in any sector are matters for individual farmers, determined by their own best interests and, of course, subject to adherence to relevant environmental regulation.

My Department provides significant support for suckler farmers, through measures such as the beef data and genomics scheme, the beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme and support for beef producer organisations as well as GLAS, the basic payment scheme and investment supports which are also available to farmers in other sectors. Furthermore, under the current Common Agricultural Policy, my Department has facilitated a convergence of basic payments which, by 2020, will have resulted in €100 million having been moved from farmers on the highest payments per hectare to those on the lowest. Many suckler farmers have been beneficiaries of that process. In providing these very significant supports to suckler farmers, my objective has been to introduce measures that encourage farmers to make the best decisions possible to improve profitability and the environmental and economic efficiency of the farming system. I will continue to support suckler farmers and to be guided by those principles.

I have also succeeded in obtaining temporary EU aid for beef farmers to assist with market difficulties. This relevant Commission regulation provides €50 million in exceptional European Union aid to beef farmers in Ireland and allows national co-funding of up to 100%. The details of the scheme, which will be entirely voluntary, have yet to be finalised. However, I can confirm that these provisions are a market response and have nothing whatever to do with dairy expansion, nor could they require any permanent reduction or adjustment in Ireland’s beef herd.

That perception exists and we would not like that to happen. I welcome the exceptional aid for suckler farmers. Will that money be paid out in 2019? We are faced with Brexit and the upcoming Mercosur deal. With 270,000 tonnes of beef already come into Europe and a further 99,000 tonnes set to come in, it will distort the market. If we are serious about supporting small family farmers and keeping them living on and working the land, they will need considerable help. We need strong supports through the exceptional need fund and also through CAP in future if we are serious about keeping the small suckler cow farmer on the land.

I repeat my opening sentence. I have no plans to reduce the suckler cow herd to facilitate the expansion of the dairy sector. I appreciate the Deputy's assistance in allaying the perception to the contrary that may exist. No policy that the Department has introduced could sustain that perception. All the efforts we have made have been about trying to deliver supports. These include restoring €50 million to the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme, bringing funding for the scheme to €250 million; the beef environmental efficiency programme; and the current EU aid scheme that we will administer before the end of the year. In all of these endeavours, any funds we can get our hands on have been targeted at the beef sector. It is intended that the latter scheme will be paid in 2019.

Question No. 53 answered with Question No. 49.
Question No. 54 replied to with Written Answers.

Beef Exports

Pat Deering


55. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the potential opportunities for the beef sector in recently opened markets and in the context of trade deals negotiated at EU level in recent times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28266/19]

Deputy McLoughlin has been given permission to ask Question No. 55.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to ask this question on behalf of Deputy Deering.

The question relates to the potential opportunities for the beef sector in recently opened markets and in the context of trade deals negotiated at EU level in recent times. I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter.

Irish beef exports increased in value to €2.4 billion in 2018 and were exported to approximately 70 countries all over the world according to trade statistics from the Central Statistics Office, CSO. Opening new markets and expanding existing markets are a key part of our response to the challenges and uncertainty posed by Brexit and are in line with the market development theme of the Food Wise 2025 strategy. In April 2018, the Chinese market was successfully opened to Irish beef and my officials continue to work towards opening and enhancing access to as many markets as possible. Beef markets have also recently been opened in Ukraine, Kuwait and Qatar.

The EU-Japan economic partnership agreement, the largest free trade agreement agreed by the EU, entered into force on 1 February 2019. This provides for considerable additional market access in Japan for beef in the amount of approximately 65,000 tonnes. This presents a significant opportunity to grow Irish beef exports to Japan, which in 2018 were worth some €3.6 million. Furthermore, earlier this year my Department secured an agreement to remove the 30-month age restriction on beef exports to Japan, the first EU member state to achieve this.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, between the EU and Canada, which entered into force provisionally in September 2017, removed more than 99% of tariffs. Enhanced access to the Canadian market for EU beef was secured as part of the agreement. In 2018, some €2.8 million or 585 tonnes of Irish beef was exported to Canada and this is expected to increase over time.

The role of my Department is to open markets for the industry and it is then up to the industry, with the support of my Department and Bord Bia, to avail of these opportunities.

The biggest issue and concern for us all is Brexit. The Minister mentioned additional markets in Japan, China and perhaps Canada. The opening of more markets to the beef farming community is vital in the present climate. All of us are being lobbied and there are serious concerns around Brexit. I am sure the Minister will also examine other markets to establish if additional business opportunities can be pursued through his Department.

It is a matter of opening as many markets as possible and improving, where possible, the terms and conditions under which trade is done. Hence the removal of the 30-month age restriction in the Japanese market is significant. Much has been rightly said about the UK market and the volume of Irish beef exported to the UK, which amounts to more than 50% of our total produce. It is our ambition to have a future trading relationship that is as close as possible to the current one in a post-Brexit scenario but that all remains to be seen in the context of those negotiations. The UK is our most valuable market. While we open up many other markets and there is potential through CETA and in Japan and Mexico, the market we can access most cheaply and which pays the best price has consistently been the UK, followed by other markets in the European Union.

We will visit China in the next month and meet Chinese officials to approve additional plants with a view to facilitating future trade. Opening up new markets is a constant endeavour.

As the Minister stated, the UK is currently our biggest market. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, what are the implications for future trade with the UK market?

Access to the UK market is in peril in a worst-case scenario. It must be borne in mind that the UK will have to conclude a trade agreement with the European Union. Our belief is that the best way to do that is through the withdrawal agreement, a transition phase and a negotiated free trade agreement that is as comprehensive and ambitious as possible. It remains to be seen whether the UK decides to pursue an alternative course of action but that market should always be important to us. We have done the yards in that market and won space on supermarket shelves in the UK through relationships that have been built up over many years. We have good knowledge and understanding of the UK market because it is English speaking and culturally and in terms of taste preferences similar to us. It is also the market that is the easiest for smaller food businesses to dip their toes into first. Our ambition is to have the most comprehensive free trade agreement with the UK in a post-transition period after the withdrawal agreement is confirmed.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 49.

Sheepmeat Sector

Tony McLoughlin


57. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the opportunities for sheepmeat in the Japanese market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28268/19]

This question relates to the opportunities for sheepmeat. There has been some discussion about the opening of the Japanese market for sheepmeat. I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter.

My officials continue to work towards opening and enhancing access to as many markets as possible. During my recent successful trade mission to Japan, I had the pleasure of announcing the agreement in principle on access to the Japanese market for Irish sheepmeat. This agreement was the culmination of ongoing collaboration between my Department, assisted by our embassy in Tokyo and the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Details of the agreement are expected to be finalised shortly by an exchange of correspondence between my Department and the relevant Japanese officials.

Japan is one of the top five markets identified for the meat sector by Bord Bia as part of the market prioritisation exercise carried out under my seven-point action plan on market access and exports. The country offers an important opportunity for sheepmeat export. According to a Bord Bia study, Japan imported 24,565 tonnes of sheepmeat at a value of more than €170 million last year. The Japanese sheepmeat import market has grown approximately 82% in value in the past five years alone.

The role of my Department is to open up market access and remove barriers to trade. The industry must then take advantage of these opportunities. I am hopeful that Irish sheepmeat exports will achieve the same success that our dairy, pigmeat and beef sectors have enjoyed in Japan.

I know the Minister's recent visit to Japan was successful. The Japanese market offers enormous potential. The Minister mentioned that Japan imported sheepmeat valued at more than €170 million each year. Have all the barriers been removed? Were obstacles removed during the Minister's recent visit to allow the start of an export business to Japan?

As I said, it remains for the i's to be dotted and the t's crossed. We are on the cusp of gaining access to the Japanese market and we have agreement in principle. It is interesting, in the context of that market, that the average consumption of sheepmeat in Ireland is approximately 3 kg per capita whereas in Japan it is in the region of 150 g. Japan represents a growing market opportunity and the trade statistics show that sheepmeat is a meat of preference that has grown significantly in recent years. There are, therefore, significant opportunities. We have gained a foothold in Japan for pork, dairy and, more recently, beef exports and the removal of the 30-month age restriction will mean a higher volume of exports going in that direction. Sheepmeat is a new venture in the Japanese market but there is potential. At the moment, for obvious geographical reasons, Japan is predominantly supplied by the sheep sectors of Australia and New Zealand but there are opportunities for us, particularly in conjunction with other efforts we are making in broader meat protein areas in that market.

As the Minister can appreciate, the sheep sector is vital in my constituency. There is a large sheep population in the constituency and surrounding counties in the north west. It is vital that we secure access to the Japanese market and other markets. Having more markets open for sheepmeat would be beneficial to the farming community.

By way of evidence of the significance of the market, between 2013 and 2018, the value of imports in the Japanese sheepmeat market has jumped by over 80% from €93 million to €170 million. During the same period, the quantity of imported sheepmeat has grown by only 33%. It is a premium product in Japan and we have opportunities in that regard. I appreciate that it is a matter of having as many markets as possible and the industry then availing of the market that delivers the highest price to the sector.

Japan is a highly sophisticated and developed market where food is a premium product and it is a market we could usefully exploit in the years ahead.

Question No. 58 replied to with Written Answers.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Charlie McConalogue


59. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions he is taking at EU level to ensure the proposed budget cuts for the 2021-2027 CAP programme are reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28222/19]

I ask the Minister to outline all the actions he is taking at EU level to ensure that the proposed cuts to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, for the period from 2021 to 2027 are reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. It is well known that the current multi-annual financial framework, MFF, outlines an overall proposed cut of 5% over the next seven years of the CAP programme, comprising of 4% to Pillar 1 and a cut of up to 15% to Pillar 2. When inflation is taken into account over the seven years, that 5% overall cut is projected to amount to a 15% real deduction unless it is addressed. I seek an update from the Minister today on the efforts at European level to have that addressed and to ensure there is no cut when the final agreement is made.

As the Deputy alluded to, we must bear in mind that CAP funding forms part of a broader European Union budget which is agreed by Heads of State and Government and ministers for finance.

The European Commission has proposed, as part of the MFF for 2021 to 2027, that funding for the Common Agricultural Policy should be set at €365 billion. This is a cut of approximately 5%. I consider that the proposed cut is unacceptable for Ireland. The retention of an adequate budget for the CAP post 2020 is a significant priority for me and for the Government.

Negotiations on the MFF proposals have commenced and are running in parallel to the CAP negotiations. I continue to work towards building consensus among my agricultural colleagues in Europe to maintain the CAP budget. I co-signed a joint memorandum in Madrid in May 2018, to call for the CAP budget to be retained at current levels. The memorandum has been supported by up to 20 other EU agriculture ministers. Ireland needs to work closely with its European Union colleagues to build a consensus to maintain the CAP budget. I meet regularly with ministers throughout Europe to continue to build momentum on this. At the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, I have consistently highlighted that the strong ambition of the CAP must be backed with strong financial support. I would like to reassure the Deputy that I will continue to do this, and to fight for a strong CAP budget as the negotiations progress.

I understand that the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, in particular, have been resisting any increase to the CAP budget. I ask the Minister about his approach in his engagement with those countries at EU level? On the existing proposals which have been published, which involve a 4% cut, what is the view of those countries to those proposals? Are they accepting that as a baseline or are they contesting it?

Furthermore, on being able to build a coalition, which will need to include those countries because unanimity is required to get to a situation where there is no cut to the final CAP budget, what is the Minister's position on his legal engagement with other European countries on that?

On the overall European Union budget, if there is an increased allocation from member states to that, there is no guarantee that will go towards the CAP budget. I ask the Minister to outline his engagement with other countries to ensure that any budget increase is directed at CAP. What is the status of the Minister's consultations with them in that regard?

I do not underestimate the scale of this challenge at all because of the unanimity requirement. As the Deputy alluded to, the critique of some member states to the Commission's proposals of June 2018 has been that the published proposals for financial cuts do not go far enough. That is a particularly challenging starting point. Those countries, namely, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Austria, take a polar opposite view to us. We have argued that in many ways, the CAP is a template that could be usefully emulated in other areas where the EU faces other big challenges such as in the areas of migration and security. Those challenges are not a reason to raid the CAP budget, and the Taoiseach has been quite strong on this in the context of his address to the European Parliament in early 2018, when he clearly stated our willingness to pay additional money into the European Union, but on the basis that it supports programmes that are important to us. This is a really difficult challenge on the basis that unanimity is required. We remain steadfast in our view that the budget should be protected. There is a judgment call to be made here and I do not detect any momentum for increasing the budget. If we can get to a situation where we get a protected budget, that would be as good as it would get.

We cannot overestimate the importance of the CAP budget, given that it makes up 75% of average farm incomes here. For some sectors, such as the beef and sheep sectors, it makes up over 100% of net income for farmers. It is essential that there is a positive outcome in this regard. The seven-year CAP programme from 2021 to 2027 was predicated on the draft regulations and the draft proposals being agreed by the outgoing European Parliament, which did not actually happen. As it looks as though there will be a delay, can the Minister enlighten us, from the point of view of the Department, as to what is the expectation on how long that delay might be? Many of the existing schemes in CAP form a critical part of farmers' incomes, particularly those under Pillar 2. Can the Minister assure us that schemes such as the environmental schemes and beef data and genomics programme will be extended? If there is a gap of one year or two years where schemes are not in place, that will have an exceptional and unacceptable impact on farmers' incomes and is something we cannot allow to come to pass.

On that point, I am acutely conscious of the requirements for the roll-over should the delay continue. On the other hand, I am equally concerned that the roll-over continues to exclude people whose contracts have already expired. In that sense, we need to pursue an approach to bring the CAP negotiations to a conclusion at the earliest possible date in order that we do not repeat the situation where those whose previous environmental schemes that expired, be they the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, or the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, did not switch over into the current green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, arrangements. I am very conscious that those concerned are currently without a support scheme, and they are not insignificant in number.

It is one thing to look for roll-over. That is important and we have engaged with the Commission on that. The Commission has not yet indicated and that may have been to do with the fact that it wants it to conclude and to keep the pressure on but we are now in a situation where this Commission is going out the door, there is a new Parliament and there will be a new Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. It remains to be seen whether it will feel hidebound by the deliberations of the previous committee or whether it will look at it afresh. All of that is in play. The optimum solution as I see it, is a new CAP in place at the earliest possible date but in the event that there is delay, roll-over is something we will be raising as well.

Question No. 60 replied to with Written Answers.

Climate Change Adaptation Plans

We have a short amount of time left before we commence another important debate. Deputy McLoughlin was to take Deputy Deering's Question No. 61. I propose that he will forgo the initial introduction, let the Minister answer and then I will let him make one comment before receiving another reply from the Minister.

Pat Deering


61. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of the climate action adaptation plan recently launched by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28271/19]

Just last week, I launched a public consultation on the adaptation plan for the agriculture, forest and seafood sectors. This is our first statutory adaptation plan and it is about preparing our systems to deal with the inevitable changes in climate, including preparations for events such as flooding, fodder shortages or damage resulting from extreme weather storms in our harbours and forests.

The overall adaptation goal of this plan is to build resilience to the effects of climate change and weather-related events in the agriculture, forestry and seafood sectors, to reduce any negative impact where possible, to take advantage of any opportunity that may exist and to contribute to the achievement of the Department’s statement of strategy goals. The four overarching objectives to help achieve this goal are centred around ensuring a joined-up approach to adaptation planning, raising awareness of the impacts of climate change, reducing vulnerability and embedding adaptation planning in decision making.

The central element of the plan is the 13 case studies, which highlight examples of where the sector has been impacted by changing weather patterns, future projections and how we might see similar events happen, with a focus on steps to build resilience and reduce vulnerability to reductions in productivity. At all levels, our system must be prepared and must consider alternative options to manage our exposure to climate change risks. By taking steps to reduce exposure to prevent climate variability, we can inform future climate adaptation requirements and increase resilience.

I thank the Minister for his comments. I look forward to the outcome of the consultation on the climate action adaptation plan from his Department and to getting further details.