Thursday, 9 May 2019

Questions (22)

Pat Deering


22. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the efforts he is making to seek new markets in the context of Brexit; the efforts being made by agencies under his remit to provide support to agrifood businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20103/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

My question is to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the efforts he is making to seek new markets in the context of Brexit; the efforts being made by agencies under his remit to provide support to agrifood business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. Brexit is a significant challenge. The beef sector is going through a difficult time. Some 40% of our beef exports currently go to Britain. In order to ensure that all our eggs are not in one basket in the future, what efforts are being made to ensure that we have other markets developed to replace those markets that perhaps have a limited time left?

The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agrifood exports is an ongoing and central component of the strategic development of the agrifood sector as set out in Food Wise 2025 and is of particular relevance given the need to diversify our markets and to reduce our exposure to the United Kingdom market in light of Brexit. Over the last number of budgets, I have significantly increased funding to Bord Bia to allow it to identify alternative priority markets, to support market diversification efforts by individual companies and to support promotional campaigns for Irish agrifood exports to international markets, for example in the case of beef to Germany and the Netherlands.

Since the UK referendum, I have led trade missions to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, China, Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia and, in February of this year, to Turkey.  Further missions are planned this year to China, which commences this weekend, to Japan and South Korea in June, and to Algeria and Egypt in November.  Trade missions play an important role in securing greater market access and in deepening trade with existing markets, and destinations are chosen in accordance with market access requirements, industry intelligence and the market prioritisation activities of Bord Bia.

I highlight my Department's plans to expand its staffing in international locations over the period to the end of 2024 in accordance with the Government's Global Ireland 2025 initiative. This will see the creation of new agriculture attaché posts in a number of new locations, primarily aimed at supporting the market development activities that will take place in these regions over the coming years.  More generally, my Department will continue to seek out and identify new markets, and I am ready to respond as appropriate to other opportunities that may arise.

There is no doubt but that there have been many trade missions recently, which are very welcome. The result is that we have seen the Chinese market in particular open up but progress seems to be slow. What efforts can be made to accelerate the pace of these markets opening? The amount of beef that has been exported to China and other markets which have opened is quite small in the overall scheme of things. For us to be able to replace the market that we have in Great Britain, we will have to accelerate exports to other countries at a greater speed than is the case at present. Bord Bia can obviously do quite a bit and the Minister can do a lot in trade missions but what can be done to accelerate getting to the final destination?

I am not sure that we should be in a headlong rush, although I know the Deputy is not suggesting this, out of existing traditional and high-paying markets, with the UK being the obvious example, since it is probably the best-paying market for beef in the European Union, if not in the world. We have significant market exposure there. I am not sure that we should be rushing headlong out of that market since it is hard won but we should be strategically looking for new market opportunities. The volume that we export outside the European Union, including to the United Kingdom, is small but it is growing and all of the market intelligence would suggest that the Asian market, where there is an increasing middle class with more disposable income, is looking to replicate western dietary habits with regard to protein sources etc. We see opportunities there for dairy, beef and other proteins in the short term.

It is a question of trying to work with the industry. They are the people who are in the marketplace trying to make a living. We operate on the intelligence that is accumulated from them and from Bord Bia in our endeavours to open new markets but deliberately moving product into one over another is an industry call. The function of the Department is to have as many markets as possible open and we are making significant progress in that regard. The market access unit in my Department has received significant additional resources, as has Bord Bia. It is never a case of saying that we are always right and all-knowing but we continually test our systems against the intelligence available to us from the industry and from Bord Bia.

The Minister was right to say I was not suggesting that we should displace our total Great Britain market. It is an important market and we should try to continue to develop it. In the event of difficulties, having seen recently when difficulties arose and having seen the consequences of a price drop, we need to have something to replace that market in the event that situations develop in future. Hopefully we will not have a catastrophic situation whereby there will be a hard Brexit, which obviously would be difficult.

It is difficult when we have all our eggs in the one basket. Traditionally, we have seen that when everything was in the one basket, there was a difficulty because we did not have an alternative. It is important that we develop these alternatives as quickly as possible. That will create greater competition in the market. Competition is the life of trade in any business. The more markets we have, the better the competition. What can we do to speed up the veterinary process, which is very important, to make sure these markets are ready when we have the supply of beef, for example, at its prime level?

In terms of market access, we are dealing with the competent authorities of other jurisdictions who see their function as being to make sure that they are protecting their consumers in terms of the quality of the product. If it was a case of meeting a universal standard, I have no doubt we would meet it. No individual country is going to cede its sovereignty in that area, so we have to work and engage with the competent authorities in every country. The Turkish authorities are in the Department this week to consider how we might improve our trade there. The Department received communication this morning from our embassy in Egypt about a delegation coming from Egypt later in the year. We are constantly on alert and working with the industry to improve the terms and conditions under which we trade with those countries. The UK market is geographically the closest to us and geography is a huge determinant of where we should and do trade, but the China market will grow significantly this year. In the first quarter of this year we have put in nearly 1,000 tonnes where we put in 1,400 last year.