Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Questions (57)

Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

57. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the additional markets being sourced for live exports of cattle and provision of extra lairage for the export of dairy bred calves at Cherbourg, in view of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14205/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

Farmers are at a low ebb. They feel beaten and let down. All over the country, they are on their knees and are at the point of giving up. More live cattle exports are needed, as well as more markets for processed beef. As Deputy McConalogue has said, extra lairage is required in Cherbourg for dairy-bred calves. I do not care whether it is the Minister or Bord Bia that provides the facilities but we owe it to the farmers of Ireland to provide additional lairage in order to take calves out of the system.

Live exports are a critical part of Ireland’s livestock industry. They play a significant role in stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. The Department facilitates this trade, recognising its critical importance to the agrifood sector, while also ensuring that live animal exports meet the highest welfare standards. In 2018 live exports of cattle increased by more than 30% to 246,000 compared to 2017. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports totalling 58,000 up to early March, which is an increase of 35% on the same period in 2018.

My Department continues to prioritise efforts to gain access to new third country markets and deepen existing markets, particularly in the context of Brexit. I visited Turkey earlier this month to meet my Turkish counterpart, Dr. Bekir Pakdemirli, Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, when we discussed existing and future opportunities for technical co-operation, trade in agrifood products and live exports. I stressed the importance of the Turkish market for Irish livestock and the desire to re-establish trade as soon as possible. Dr. Pakdemirli indicated his intention to consider the reopening of the market in the second half of 2019. It was also agreed that officials from both countries would continue to explore opportunities for future co-operation and a visit by a Turkish technical team, including officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and the ESK - the Turkish meat and milk board - is planned for this summer.

Next week I will be meeting the Kazakh ambassador to discuss new health certification for trade of live animals to Kazakhstan. My Department is also engaging closely with officials to reach agreement on three proposed health and breeding certificates for the export of fattening, slaughter and breeding cattle to Egypt. Last November my Department reached agreement with Libya on a new veterinary health certificate for the export of breeding cattle and an amended veterinary certificate for the export of fattening and slaughter cattle. This increases the opportunity for exporters to export a wider range of cattle. A consignment of bulls destined for Libya set sail yesterday.

I have also extended an invitation to my Algerian counterpart to visit Ireland in 2019. This follows earlier contact with Algeria to try to reach agreement on revised and separate slaughter, fattening and breeding certificates.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

With regard to lairage capacity at Cherbourg, my officials are in ongoing communication with Irish exporters on the need for co-operative management between each other to ensure lairage capacity at the port is optimised. The development of additional lairage capacity is a commercial issue. The live export sector may wish to consider developing additional lairage in Cherbourg or engaging with owners of existing facilities there to explore the potential to provide additional capacity. Notwithstanding this, there has been significant engagement with the French authorities on this matter. In September 2018 officials from my Department visited Cherbourg to discuss the capacity issue with the French authorities and local lairage operators. Last month Bord Bia met local lairage operators, while departmental officials held a meeting with the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and French embassy representatives. I also raised the issue last month with the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, while last week I discussed the matter with my French counterpart, Didier Guillaume, at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels. I should make it clear that the facilitation of the French ministry relates to the approval of private sector developments. Following this engagement, I am happy to report that in recent weeks the French authorities have approved an increase in the holding capacity of the Qualivia lairage in Cherbourg. It will provide additional daily capacity for 400 animals. Based on current ferry sailing schedules, it will provide increased capacity for some 1,200 animals per week.

The Deputy can rest assured that I will continue to advocate on behalf of exporters on this issue.

I thank the Minister for the efforts he is making. I am glad that the mart in Castleisland now has a job to export 1,500 bulls to Turkey. However, more live exports and more permits are needed for small beef processors to allow them to sell beef to China and other countries. It is amazing that five licences have been granted to the major meat processing companies, while 11 other permit applications are waiting to be processed to allow smaller beef processors to sell beef to China, but they are being held up by the Department. Will the Minister explain why? The factories dropped their price again yesterday by five cent per kilo. We need competition in the market, as well as more live cattle exports and more competition in the beef processing industry. Why have the 11 applications from small beef processors been held up?

I advise the Deputy that they have not been held up by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The approval of permits for the export of beef to China is a matter for the Chinese authorities. We prosecute all applications on their behalf with the Chinese authorities. I will visit China again later this year as part of a trade delegation when I hope to progress these matters. I will also seek to do so in the interim. The Chinese market is significant. For dairy and pork products, China is our second biggest market after the United Kingdom. The same could possibly happen for beef. We attach a lot of significance to securing the maximum facilitation of trade, but with that trade comes terms and conditions. In many respects, we are takers. For example, if China determines that it will not take cattle under 30 months and that it does not want cattle that have spent the last period of their lives - 70 days - on one holding, or if international customers determine that they do not want cattle that have been subject to more than four movements, these are all conditions with which we, as an exporter, will have to comply. Obviously, we try to make progress to secure the maximum facilitation of trade and the least number of restrictions and the least amount of red tape, but competent authorities, the markets and retail partners determine the specifications.

Why are cattle in the United Kingdom, including the North of Ireland, making €200 per head more than cattle in the South? There is uproar about the grading machines used in the factories. The sergeant for weights and measures is responsible for measures at petrol pumps and in public houses. Does the Department have any role to play in the calibration of grading machines used in the factories? They should be sealed and calibrated by departmental officials. Is this happening? Is the Department playing any role in ensuring the farmer receives a fair price for what he or she is selling to the factory? It seems to farmers that they are not being treated fairly by the factories and that the Department is not playing the role it should be playing in ensuring grading machines and the grid system for pricing are operated fairly to ensure the farmer will be paid properly for his or her produce.

The Deputy has asked a number of questions. The issue of the price differential between here and the United Kingdom is often raised, but it must be borne in mind that Ireland has to export 90% of what it produces, be it to the UK market or anywhere else; there is, therefore, a cost element. There is also the fact that the UK consumer receives preference in the case of Red Tractor assured beef, rather than produce from other countries. Ireland enjoys preferential status in the UK market, but its beef is not valued as highly in the context of the British consumer's preference for Red Tractor assured beef. When I meet representatives of the meat industry, I repeatedly make the point to them that there would be no meat companies or meat industry without the beef farmers and that the industry must be conscious that this fact underpins the business.

I put it to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae that the position of sergeant for weights and measures is a thing of the past. They are now functions of the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI. My Department has a function in the calibration of grading machines. The payment arising from the grid system stems from a contractual arrangement entered into between the farm organisations and the processors, depending on where one's cattle lands on the grid which is complex. There are 225 disparate categorisations. The payment that follows, depending on into which slots the cattle fall, is an issue between the farm organisations and the processors as negotiated; it is not something for which the Department has responsibility. As the competent authority, we have a function in monitoring the use of grading machines and carry out more on-site inspections than we are obliged to do by regulation.