While I obviously consider it essential that profits in the production chain are distributed equitably the matter raised is primarily one for my colleague the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation. I would point out, however, that the Programme for Government contains a specific commitment to enact legislation to regulate certain practices in the grocery goods sector. The Government intends to give effect to this commitment by including an enabling provision in the legislation currently being prepared to merge the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority, which will allow for the introduction of a statutory Code of Practice. Work on drafting the Consumer and Competition Bill is on-going and the Bill is included in the “A list” in the Government’s current Legislative Programme. It is important to point out that in introducing a statutory Code the intention is not to protect one stakeholder over another nor is the Code intended to prevent stakeholders such as retailers and suppliers from engaging in the type of contractual negotiations that happen in most other sectors of the economy. It is also the case that the Code is not seeking in any way to determine the price of grocery goods. Rather, the essential value of the Code is that by regulating problematic practices in the grocery goods sector it seeks to strike a fair balance between the competing interests of the various stakeholders including the interests of the end user, the consumer.
The Government is strongly of the view that it important to ensure there is balance in the relationship between the various players in the grocery goods sector and that Ireland continues to have strong agri food and retail sectors, particularly given the importance of these sectors to the national economy. The introduction of a Code of Practice, as provided for in the Programme for Government, is intended to achieve such a balance taking into account the interests of all stakeholders in the grocery goods sector. It must also be noted, however, that arrangements in the domestic market are not the primary influence on farmers’ incomes. Unsurprisingly, with an Agri-Food industry that exported over €9bn of goods last year, the bulk of most Irish farmers’ produce is exported (e.g. 4 out of 5 beef cattle produced in Ireland are consumed in other countries), so EU and world prices have a much bigger influence on the price farmers receive for their output overall than does the retail price in Ireland.