Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Questions (55)

Pat Deering


55. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the potential opportunities for the beef sector in recently opened markets and in the context of trade deals negotiated at EU level in recent times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28266/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

Deputy McLoughlin has been given permission to ask Question No. 55.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to ask this question on behalf of Deputy Deering.

The question relates to the potential opportunities for the beef sector in recently opened markets and in the context of trade deals negotiated at EU level in recent times. I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter.

Irish beef exports increased in value to €2.4 billion in 2018 and were exported to approximately 70 countries all over the world according to trade statistics from the Central Statistics Office, CSO. Opening new markets and expanding existing markets are a key part of our response to the challenges and uncertainty posed by Brexit and are in line with the market development theme of the Food Wise 2025 strategy. In April 2018, the Chinese market was successfully opened to Irish beef and my officials continue to work towards opening and enhancing access to as many markets as possible. Beef markets have also recently been opened in Ukraine, Kuwait and Qatar.

The EU-Japan economic partnership agreement, the largest free trade agreement agreed by the EU, entered into force on 1 February 2019. This provides for considerable additional market access in Japan for beef in the amount of approximately 65,000 tonnes. This presents a significant opportunity to grow Irish beef exports to Japan, which in 2018 were worth some €3.6 million. Furthermore, earlier this year my Department secured an agreement to remove the 30-month age restriction on beef exports to Japan, the first EU member state to achieve this.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, between the EU and Canada, which entered into force provisionally in September 2017, removed more than 99% of tariffs. Enhanced access to the Canadian market for EU beef was secured as part of the agreement. In 2018, some €2.8 million or 585 tonnes of Irish beef was exported to Canada and this is expected to increase over time.

The role of my Department is to open markets for the industry and it is then up to the industry, with the support of my Department and Bord Bia, to avail of these opportunities.

The biggest issue and concern for us all is Brexit. The Minister mentioned additional markets in Japan, China and perhaps Canada. The opening of more markets to the beef farming community is vital in the present climate. All of us are being lobbied and there are serious concerns around Brexit. I am sure the Minister will also examine other markets to establish if additional business opportunities can be pursued through his Department.

It is a matter of opening as many markets as possible and improving, where possible, the terms and conditions under which trade is done. Hence the removal of the 30-month age restriction in the Japanese market is significant. Much has been rightly said about the UK market and the volume of Irish beef exported to the UK, which amounts to more than 50% of our total produce. It is our ambition to have a future trading relationship that is as close as possible to the current one in a post-Brexit scenario but that all remains to be seen in the context of those negotiations. The UK is our most valuable market. While we open up many other markets and there is potential through CETA and in Japan and Mexico, the market we can access most cheaply and which pays the best price has consistently been the UK, followed by other markets in the European Union.

We will visit China in the next month and meet Chinese officials to approve additional plants with a view to facilitating future trade. Opening up new markets is a constant endeavour.

As the Minister stated, the UK is currently our biggest market. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, what are the implications for future trade with the UK market?

Access to the UK market is in peril in a worst-case scenario. It must be borne in mind that the UK will have to conclude a trade agreement with the European Union. Our belief is that the best way to do that is through the withdrawal agreement, a transition phase and a negotiated free trade agreement that is as comprehensive and ambitious as possible. It remains to be seen whether the UK decides to pursue an alternative course of action but that market should always be important to us. We have done the yards in that market and won space on supermarket shelves in the UK through relationships that have been built up over many years. We have good knowledge and understanding of the UK market because it is English speaking and culturally and in terms of taste preferences similar to us. It is also the market that is the easiest for smaller food businesses to dip their toes into first. Our ambition is to have the most comprehensive free trade agreement with the UK in a post-transition period after the withdrawal agreement is confirmed.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 49.