The international pigmeat market has been experiencing serious difficulties over the past year or so due to the combination of oversupply of pigs and substantially reduced demand in the traditional import markets of Russia and the Far East. Ireland's pigmeat sector has not been immune from these developments.
Despite the current difficult market situation Irish pigmeat prices have increased by nearly 18% since the beginning of the year. Measures I have taken to alleviate the difficult market situation have contributed to this improvement. For example, I negotiated subtantial increases in export refunds in 1998 and again in 1999. I pressed for and was successful in obtaining the introduction of an aids to private storage scheme which helped to remove more than 420,000 tonnes of pigmeat from the EU market. The EU food aid programme for Russia which included 100,000 tonnes of pigmeat has also served to remove substantial quantities of pigmeat from the market. Nevertheless the situation is still unsatisfactory as many producers are still losing money even though prices have improved.
I raised the weak market issue at the most recent Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting in November and with several other member states requested further market support. At national level I had further meetings in recent weeks with the feed suppliers, banks and pigmeat processors to ensure everything possible was being done in terms of slaughtering schedules and capacity as well as marketing initiatives to lessen the adverse effects of the market weakness on the primary production sector. In terms of processing capacity I have asked Enterprise Ireland to examine the matter as a matter of urgency and to consider the current structure of the sector. It is commissioning a study as a result. I will continue to use every means at my disposal to ensure an improvement in the market as quickly as possible.