I am acutely aware of the issues presented to the agrifood sector in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. My Department and I are working to ensure that business and services to farmers can continue, keeping food and other processing facilities operational, ensuring that payments and commercial activities that are necessary to protect farm incomes can continue. There are likely to be significant economic impacts for the agrifood sector, arising from reduced demand in key markets around the world. The loss of high value food service customers is already of significant immediate concern.
I have engaged with my European colleagues to seek a strong, shared EU response, using the instruments available in the Common Agricultural Policy to address the economic impacts on the sector. While the Commission introduced some flexibilities in the agrifood area as part of its Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative in early April, these did not go far enough, and did not address the market disturbance that has already been particularly acute in some sectors.
I therefore initiated the preparation of a Joint Statement from Member States calling for a strong pan-European response and, in particular, for market support and exceptional aid measures to be deployed by the Commission. I succeeded in garnering the support of all twenty-six of my counterparts, and the Joint Statement was submitted to Commissioner Wojciechowski by Ireland on behalf of all Member States on 16 April.
The fact that all twenty-seven Member States agreed this joint approach was a powerful expression of solidarity and has been met with a response from the Commission with the opening of a range of Private Storage Aid measures, including for cheese, skimmed milk powder, butter, sheepmeat and beef on the 7th May 2020.
Private Storage Aid (PSA) is a risk management tool / safety net available to EU producers of certain agricultural products under the CMO regulation (1308 / 2013). The aim is to facilitate producers to store the product for a stipulated temporary storage period. It is not possible to project the effect of Private Storage Aid on farm gate prices. In the first instance, it is for industry to decide if they wish to be product into storage, then the schemes operates on a first-come first-served basis across the EU, there is no specific Member State allocation with the exception of cheese for which Ireland received 2,180 tonnes, and finally a number of factors will determine farm gate price. Nonetheless, it is an important market support tool to have available and one which Industry Representatives and Farming Organisations both nationally and in Europe lobbied strongly for.
I will also continue to work with my colleagues in Government to ensure that all businesses, including those in the agrifood sector, get access to suitable supports, and the measures in place are being kept under review.