As the Deputy will be aware, in accordance with competition law, neither I nor my Department has a role in determining market prices for any commodity and I cannot intervene in this particular process. The agrifood sector is of critical importance to the economy and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular. Brexit has the potential to have a significant impact on the sector given its unique exposure to the UK market, which accounted for 38% or €5.2 billion worth of agrifood exports last year.
There are ongoing discussions with the European Commission regarding the difficulties Ireland would face in the event of a no-deal Brexit and the assistance that might be required for our agriculture, food and fishery sectors. Avoiding a no-deal Brexit continues to be the Government’s overriding policy priority. I have held a number of discussions with Commissioner Hogan regarding the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the sector. I have stressed the need for the Commission to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on agrifood and fisheries, including through traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the CAP's CMO regulation - Regulation (EU) No. 1308/2013- as well increased flexibility under state aid rules.
It is also important to acknowledge that the past few months have been difficult for beef farmers in particular, following a difficult year in 2018 due to weather conditions. There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since last autumn, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance. In light of the ongoing depressed market prices, I have said in discussions with Commissioner Hogan and my EU counterparts that I believe that the deployment of exceptional measures under the CMO regulation to provide targeted aid to farm families who have suffered a sustained reduction in returns from the market is required. I made an intervention to this effect at the April meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and my officials have followed up with a detailed submission which is under consideration by Commission officials. In addition, I have consistently stressed at EU level the need to protect the EU beef sector in trade discussions with Mercosur.
Finally, I chaired the 12th meeting of the beef round table last October. A press release summarising the discussions and presentations made at that meeting is available on my Department's website. The round table dealt with issues such as the interdependence between the primary producers and processors and progressing the producer organisations.