I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment. It is well merited. He has made a great contribution not only to Dáil Éireann but also to Seanad Éireann and I wish him the best of luck in the future.
This Bill serves a dual purpose: first to increase the membership of the board of An Bord Bia by two and second to provide that one member of the board shall be appointed on the nomination of the Minister for the Marine.
The primary producer must be involved in all aspects of the food industry, including the marketing and promotional aspects. In the past, the farmer focus has been solely on raw material production. In my opinion, this does not fulfil the role all primary producers should play in the food industry. Primary producers have certain fundamental food production obligations that must be met. The raw materials they produce must satisfy their consumer requirements, namely, those of the processors, with regard to quality, cost, consistency and timing of delivery. To make these requirements, the link between the producer and the processor must be strengthened and direct representation of farming organisations on the board of An Bord Bia will help to achieve this.
Farmers already make a substantial levy contribution to An Bord Bia and this is another reason they should be represented on the board. It is estimated that the levy income paid by farmers to An Bord Bia in 1995 will be in the region of £4.3 million, a substantial figure. On enactment of this Bill, it is intended that two representatives of farming organisations, one from the IFA and one from the ICMSA, will be appointed to the board of An Bord Bia.
If An Bord Bia is to be truly successful in marketing Irish food, its remit should include all Irish food, including fish products. It has been agreed with the Minister for the Marine that BIM and An Bord Bia should co-operate closely in the marketing of fish exports with a view to the ultimate transfer of those functions to An Bord Bia. Section 9 of the An Bord Bia Act, 1994, allows transfers of this kind to take place. The appointment of a fisheries representative to one of the existing places on the board will be the first step in ensuring a smooth and efficient transfer of BIM functions to An Bord Bia.
I envisage the main outcome of these changes will be to assist in the development of a new attitude to the food industry, an attitude of unity of approach which involves both farmers and processors. This idea of unity of approach is already evident in the recent appointment of Dr. Noel Cawley, managing director of the National Dairy Board to the board of An Bord Bia. The dairy board is the largest Irish food exporter and is highly representative of the dairy sector. It is only fitting that such a large sector should have a voice on the Irish Food Board. These modifications will provide a wealth of knowledge and expertise covering the entire food industry and will allow the board of An Bord Bia address problems and make informed educated strategic judgments in relation to product marketing and promotion for the entire industry. An Bord Bia will be truly representative of the Irish food industry and can achieve a true unity of approach.
This unity of approach to which I keep referring is absolutely essential for the success of the Irish food industry. National and international markets are increasingly dynamic environments. Market pressures are constantly changing and we must be able to adapt and respond to these changes. Two major market pressures affecting food markets are changing consumer demands and European and global policy issues. Consumer expectations are constantly evolving with factors such as changing lifestyles, environmental issues, economic constraints and food quality and convenience all shaping consumer choice.
With regard to changing policy issues, the main issues affecting food markets will be the effects of CAP and GATT reforms. CAP reform has already resulted in major scaling down of intervention availability and a reduction in institutional price levels. The recent GATT agreement will increase competition for EU producers.
Another factor that must also be considered is the expansion of the EU. The Union has recently welcomed three new members and the possibility of further expansion involving central and eastern Europe is very real. We must be prepared for the effects of these changes, but it is no longer satisfactory to simply defend or even maintain our current position. We must expand, compete and aggressively sell our food industry and food produce. In essence, my vision for the Irish food industry in the future is one of a single, strong, cohesive and competitive industry.
Currently, the Irish food industry provides employment for 200,000 on farms and in processing and related activities. It is Ireland's single biggest industry with an annual output approaching £9 billion. However, when our food industry is viewed as a single industry it only ranks eighth in the world in terms of size behind the food giants such as Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever.
It is clear that we have a long way to go before the industry achieves its full potential, but we have made a start. Earlier this year the first ever National Development Strategy for the Irish Food Industry was launched. This strategy provides a framework for the growth and development of the industry to the year 2000 and involves a financial investment of £640 million. Of this, £283 million will be provided from EU and national funds and £357 million will be invested by the industry itself. In accordance with the concept of "unity of approach" the National Development Strategy aims to co-ordinate all aspects of the food industry including producers, processors, Departments and all relevant State agencies. It is a unique and innovative approach to the industry. In addition, a special management unit, under the chairmanship of the Secretary of my Department, has been established to monitor and co-ordinate the progress of the plan.
Of particular relevance to the Bill before the House is the marketing function of this plan which will be implemented by An Bord Bia. The board was established in December 1994 with the primary aim of developing and implementing a comprehensive marketing strategy for the Irish food industry. The board's first five year strategy was launched last month, under which its activities will encompass six key areas: market information, promotion, market development, product innovation, quality assurance support and key policy inputs.
An Bord Bia's plan specifically targets markets judged to offer the best long term prospects and food sectors with expansion potential. If targets are realised, we will see exports increase by 5 per cent in the dairy sector, 14 per cent in the meat and livestock sector, 50 per cent in the beverage sector, 55 per cent in the edible horticulture sector and 100 per cent in the prepared consumer food sector. This may sound ambitious but I think it is realistic — but only if we follow through with our "unity of approach". The constitution of An Bord Bia will be pivotal to the success of the Irish Food Board. I believe that strengthening and consolidating the board in the manner proposed will ensure that the board's aims are achieved.
The Bill before the House is a short and uncomplicated one. Section 1 provides that the minimum number of ordinary members of the board shall be increased from nine to 11 and the maximum number from 11 to 13. It also provides that one ordinary member shall be appointed on the nomination of the Minister for the Marine as well as for certain consequential changes in the provisions governing the terms of office of the board members. Section 2 provides for the short title and collective citation of the Bill.
I commend the Bill to the House.