Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 11 Jun 1992

Vol. 421 No. 2

Adjournment Debate. - Sanctions Threat to Irish Exports.

I wish to ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food if his attention has been drawn to the serious threat of sanctions being imposed by the United States Administration on the export of Irish liqueur and cheese products, and if he will give details of the steps, if any, he intends to take to counteract this serious threat to Irish exports? It is clearly evident that this is a very serious threat to the Irish dairy industry and should not be taken lightly. It is also evident that President Bush's administration seems to be intent on striking the most vulnerable section of our agricultural industry, our dairy farmers. The value of our casein exports last year to the United States was £120 million and the value of Irish liqueur exports was over £100 million.

If the United States want dialogue with their EC partners they should not proceed by wielding the big stick on the most vulnerable section of the community in the EC, Irish dairy farmers. The Americans must realise that we cannot live on fresh air and cold water. Apart from agriculture, fisheries and tourism, our three natural resources, we are not blessed with great industries. Such a threat from the great United States to one of the weakest nations in Europe is a stroke against democracy in the western civilised world. It brings home to me in no uncertain fashion the actions of our EC Commissioner when he entertained American negotiators for GATT in Dromoland Castle in the latter months of last year in red carpet fashion. He threw in the towel by offering those American tycoons a 30 per cent reduction in EC exports. It is clearly evident that the EC Commissioner should have fought more sternly on behalf of the under-privileged section of the agricultural community. I can see no reason for throwing in the towel at such an early stage of negotiations. It failed hopelessly to portray the serious impact that any reduction in agricultural exports would have for this country.

Various agreements have been made between the EC and GATT countries as a result of which our Irish farmers have suffered annihilation. I have yet to be convinced of one factory farm in Europe closing down as a result of a reduction in quotas but I have seen to my dismay thousands of Irish farmers closing their gates and giving up supplying milk because it was uneconomic. This is the straw that will break the camel's back. I hope that the Minister for Agriculture and Food will put on the boxing gloves and make sure he wins the fight against this serious American threat.

It is clearly evident that this threat was made by President Bush's administration to gain a rural vote from the mid-west farming community, but does President Bush realise that there are more than 40 million ethnic Americans in the United States, a sizeable force which could decide any future presidentail election in that country? Perhaps the Minister for Agriculture and Food, in conjunction with the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs, would meet representatives from the Bush administration and ask them to let common sense prevail and to withdraw the serious threats to the Irish agricultural industry.

I welcome the introduction of this topic by my colleague, Deputy Sheehan, because it is a serious matter. I deplore the fact that the US administration has published this retaliation list. Even though we know that there will be no application of it for at least 30 days from yesterday, I regard the list as unjustified, unnecessary and badly biased against this country. Rather than putting on the gloves I suggest to Deputy Sheehan that I should take off the gloves because this is bare knuckle stuff. I should say that this is not the first time such lists have been published. I see this as a tactic designed to force the Community's hand and to provide the US with a tactical advantage in forthcoming talks with the EC about oilseeds.

Let me remind the House briefly of the background. Some time back, the EC made changes in its oilseeds regime designed to move that system towards acreage based payments. Those changes were intended to meet earlier US objections against the system. However, the US objected to that move also and a GATT panel was set up which found against the Community. The Community rejected the panel's findings, but is nevertheless prepared in principle to negotiate with the US about possible compensation; since third countries other than the US are involved and EC Council clearance will be needed it could take some little time for the Community to finalise its negotiating stance. The US should, in my view, recognise the EC's intentions on this, which I support in principle, and be prepared to wait for the short extra time involved without feeling the necessity to make tactical threats.

These threats are counter-productive. In this country they cannot but cause anti-US feeling and anti-GATT feeling, which would be an unfortunate result. In proceeding in this way the US is acting wrongly vis-à-vis the Community as a whole and, as Deputy Sheehans said, wrongly vis-à-vis a small country in the Community, namely, Ireland. This country's participation in the EC oilseeds regime is miniscule. Nevertheless, the list contains threats against exports to the US of major Irish products such as casein, cream liqueurs and cheese, and is jeopardising the jobs of the personnel in the companies producing those products.

At times such as these we can be particularly glad to have the support of the European Commission, with the whole economic clout of the EC behind it. The Commission, as Deputies will know, is the Community negotiator in GATT matters. We have been in contact with them for some time in anticipation of this issue and we are now again contacting them in the light of this latest development. I am also making direct contact with the US authorities, Secretary Madigan, the US Embassy in Dublin and our embassy in Washington, in the expectation that they will value Irish-US relations and US-EC relations enough not to proceed with this unnecessary and provocative threat. I have confidence in the negotiating powers of the European Commission, and indeed in the ultimate good sense of the US. With the Commission we will do our utmost to ensure that genuine negotiations on the dispute take place, leading to an acceptable outcome, and that these unjustified threats do not become a reality. I have been in contact with the US Embassy in Dublin and will be meeting later this evening personnel from that embassy to put our views to them.

I would add that, in a statement just issued, the European Commission said that it deeply regrets the US decision, which it regards as inappropriate and counter-productive, and has emphasised that the Community will come forward with a concrete proposal before the GATT Council on 19 June. The Commission states also that the US action is without any legal basis pending conclusions of the GATT Council on that date. I agree with the Commission's viewpoint and applaud the stance it is taking which is in the interest of this country as well as of the EC as a whole.