Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Questions (65)

Martin Kenny


65. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the initiatives he plans to put in place to protect the future of the beef sector from Brexit and future trade deals such as the Mercosur deal in view of the decline in the beef sector here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13988/19]

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Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

We only have a few minutes left so I suggest that Deputy Martin Kenny forfeits his introduction, the Minister replies and there is one supplementary.

There is no doubt that the beef sector faces considerable challenges in the form of Brexit and the potential outcome from the EU-Mercosur trade negotiations. However, the Government is doing everything it can to ameliorate the potential impacts, including raising the cumulative effect of these developments in its ongoing engagement with member states and the European Commission.

On Brexit, in addition to the range of measures that I have deployed over the past three budgets, including low-cost loan schemes and supports for product and market diversification, I and my officials have been in ongoing discussions with the European Commission about the potential supports that may be required for the beef sector in particular in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Most recently, I met Commissioner Hogan on the margins of last week's Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels to discuss potential options and we will remain in contact as the situation evolves.

With regard to free trade agreements, we must acknowledge that these are very important to Ireland, given our status as a small, open economy. However, our approach to negotiations is informed by the need to make progress in areas where we have offensive interests, and to strongly defend those areas where threats may arise. We are therefore adopting a pragmatic, balanced approach, consistent with overall Government policy.

This approach is evident in our handling of the Mercosur negotiations, where we continue to urge the utmost vigilance, and insist that they are handled in a manner that safeguards the interests of the Irish and European beef sector. I also continue to stress that full account must be taken of the findings of the Commission's own assessment of the cumulative impact of trade deals on the agrifood sector and at the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 18 March, I specifically drew the attention of the Council to the very clear linkage between the inclusion of a beef tariffable quota in any Mercosur deal, and the potentially very damaging impact of Brexit on an already delicately-balanced EU beef market.

The issue of Brexit is complicated further by the EU's insistence on carrying out trade deals particularly in places such as Latin America and Mercosur. There is an irony in this because great pressure is coming on the production of beef and other meat from a climate change and greenhouse gas perspective, mainly from the European Union, which may fine us for our greenhouse gas emissions. One of the ways it is pushing us to deal with that is by a reduction in the number of cattle and in beef production yet it is talking about doing a trade deal with Latin America to produce beef where there used to be rainforest. It will then be transported halfway around the world. Somebody somewhere needs to make the connection and see this does not work from an environmental or trade point of view, and from the point of view of the farmers in Ireland who produce beef - as the Minister and others have acknowledged - in almost the most environment-friendly manner in the world. There are serious issues to be dealt with.

While I acknowledge the Minister's words that as an open economy we need to have trade deals with other countries, we need to also recognise the damage those trade deals can do, if they are handled badly. There will be damage here if we continue to insist on bringing beef from regions on the far side of the world, such as Latin America.

I appreciate the Deputy's points. We have been extremely vigilant in our engagements with the Commission and the Commissioner on Mercosur in particular. The flip side of that, however, is that as a small economy that exports to over 180 countries, we benefit from those trade deals in reverse because we would not be in those markets were it not for our membership of the European Union and the clout it has when it knocks on doors to conclude trade deals. Consequently, wherever I have gone on trade missions I have been following the Commission, which has opened doors by concluding or improving upon trade deals such as between the EU and Mexico, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, with Canada, between the EU and Japan and between the EU and Korea. They are very interesting because they align perfectly with Food Wise 2025, which has identified that area, in particular the south-east Asian economies, as providing opportunities for our agrifood exports.

It is imperative in contrast with others where we have defensive interests in trade agreements, particularly in Mercosur, that our product is in those markets, not just because it is safe and nutritious and traceable but increasingly because to get inside the door, we must be able to prove our sustainability credentials.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.