Foreign Trade Promotion: Discussion.

I welcome Mr. Aidan Cotter and Mr. Michael Murphy, CEO and director of markets, respectively, from Bord Bia. I also welcome Mr. Henry Burns and Ms Elaine Farrell, national sheep committee chairman and Oireachtas liaison executive, respectively, from the Irish Farmers Association. I thank them for coming.

This is the third in a series of meetings relating to foreign trade promotion. Trade promotion is an issue the joint committee is prioritising in its work programme for the remainder of the year. We will be publishing a report on the State's trade promotion support framework, with a view to making recommendations on how it can be improved, with particular reference to the Department of Foreign Affairs. I am grateful to the delegates for coming to contribute to our discussion of this matter.

There is general agreement that Ireland's future pattern of growth will be predicated on a sustainable, export-led economic model. Within Ireland 300,000 jobs are dependent on exports, 50% of which are in the indigenous sector. The other 50% are in the pharmaceutical sector and the human sciences, largely as a result of foreign direct investment by multinationals. It is striking that 150,000 are in the indigenous sector, according to the exporters association. Indigenous Irish exporters rely on State support agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs, Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia in identifying opportunities in foreign markets, in making business contacts and navigating successfully foreign regulatory regimes. The committee is keen to hear from the Bord Bia representatives on their work in this regard. We are also keen to hear the views of the IFA delegation on how best State structures can support the farming sector — Ireland's largest indigenous exporting sector — on exports development. We regard our embassies as crucial to the development of exports, especially in opening doors and maintaining contacts. We want to learn how this can be strengthened, what plans the organisations have and how we might be able to help.

Before we begin, I advise that whereas Members of the Houses enjoy absolute privilege in respect of utterances made in committee, witnesses do not enjoy such privilege. Accordingly, caution should be exercised, particularly with regard to references of a personal nature.

I must apologise because I have to go into the Dáil Chamber to make a statement on the recent European Council. We should try to avoid a clash with such engagements. I have one question for Bord Bia before I leave. Why do we have so few people based abroad to promote our produce? I am sorry for pre-empting the presentation, but I have to go into the Dáil Chamber.

That is one of our main concerns. I call Mr. Cotter to make his presentation, following which we will hear from Mr. Burns. We will then invite questions.

Mr. Aidan Cotter

I thank the joint committee for its invitation to discuss the promotion of Ireland's foreign trade, a topic of critical importance to our largest indigenous industry and the work of Bord Bia. I am joined by Mr. Michael Murphy, director of our markets division.

I would like to focus on four principal areas. I will begin with a brief review of Ireland's food and drink trade. Second, I will set out the role of Bord Bia in supporting the development of the industry and our linkages with the Department of Foreign Affairs. Third, I will address the current issues dominating trade and dictating the focus of activities in an exceptionally challenging environment. Finally, I will set out our key priorities as the market continues to evolve, as it inevitably will, beyond its current difficulties.

The Irish agrifood sector plays a key role in the economy and has significant potential to contribute to sustainable economic renewal due to its high export orientation. It accounts for close to one tenth of the size of the economy, a corresponding share of employment, and as much as two thirds of our indigenous manufacturing exports. Last year, the industry exported more than €8 billion worth of Irish food and drink to some 170 markets around the world. Meat and dairy products, reflecting the importance of grass-based enterprises to Irish agriculture, account for almost 60% of total exports. Added value prepared foods account for close to another 20%, with beverages comprising some 15% of the total, followed by seafood and fruit and vegetables.

Ireland is the largest net exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere and our dairy industry is responsible for some 15% of world output of infant formula. Our drinks sector projects the Irish brand onto retail and bar shelves in every corner of the globe. It is an industry with an impressive global footprint and a platform on which much can yet be built. Yet, as John Fanning, chairman of the judges' stated at the Bord Bia food and drink awards at the IMI in Sandyford last week, even these measures do not adequately capture the true value of the sector, the sense of national pride, self-belief and achievement we experience when we select an Irish food or drink product from a supermarket shelf in a foreign country.

Although the industry has an extensive international reach and has had success in building a presence in the rapidly growing Asian region, some 45% of its exports last year were destined for the United Kingdom market where the depreciation of sterling has posed major challenges. I will return to that issue presently. Meanwhile, some 30% of exports of Irish food and drink go to continental European — mainly eurozone — countries, with a further 24% destined for international markets outside the European Union.

The role of Bord Bia is to promote and develop markets and to drive the success of Irish food and horticulture through a range of strategic market development, promotion and information services. We are the eyes, ears and voice of the industry in the international marketplace. We have a complement of some 100 staff and operate from nine international locations as well as out of Dublin. Reflecting the pattern and potential for our food exports, six of our offices are located within the European Union while our other international locations include New York, Moscow and Shanghai. Seven of our nine offices are located within an Ireland House arrangement. The exceptions are London and Moscow where no such arrangements are available, while our location in Moscow within the Russian Department of Agriculture building has brought with it certain operational benefits.

The remit of our overseas offices extends beyond coverage of their immediate market location to include regional coverage of adjacent markets. Dublin-based Bord Bia staff complement our international market presence where required. Meanwhile, we are an active participant in the export orientation programme operated by IBEC whereby we offer ten to 12 placements within our offices on an annual basis to suitable graduates to develop practical skills and gain hands-on experience in an international and fast-moving business environment.

Our international presence is kept under continuous review to ensure it is optimally distributed to support Irish exporters. This in turn is dictated by the existing pattern of exports as well as by future potential, recognising that geographical business perspectives may and do vary sector by sector. Our market prioritisation process can equally assist companies to focus their own priorities by ranking and weighting potential markets by a range of attributes that define their attractiveness and the companies’ capability to serve them.

Within the State infrastructure we work closely with related agencies, including Enterprise Ireland, with whom an inter-agency protocol provides for co-operation and co-ordination of activities to achieve optimal efficiencies, effectiveness and cost savings. We have a similar agreement with Bord lascaigh Mhara whose overseas offices in Dusseldorf, Paris and Madrid were integrated with Bord Bia's following our assumption of the seafood marketing and promotion function as of June this year. Within each market we participate in the regular meetings convened by the respective ambassadors in each country to co-ordinate and report on promotional activities and to identify opportunities among the various agencies and embassies to work together.

Our relationship with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Irish embassies throughout the world is integral to our work. This was never more evident than during and subsequent to the dioxin-related pigmeat product recall last December. Both within and without the European Union, the role of our embassies in briefing national authorities was critical to keeping markets open. At that time and subsequently we have continued to work with the embassies and with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to restore full market access, with that work now focusing on the two principal markets still to be reopened, namely, Russia and China.

Bord Bia is also an active participant, together with the Department of Foreign Affairs and other agencies, on the Asia strategy group and the market access group for food exports, which is chaired by an assistant secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Access to international markets remains an issue in the meat sector in particular where some outstanding restrictions date back to the BSE crisis of the mid-1990s.

The contribution of our embassies overseas in hosting key functions for the food industry should not go unremarked. Perhaps the most successful example is the annual networking event organised by Bord Bia and hosted by the Irish ambassador which each year attracts some 400 British and Irish trade representatives to the embassy in London. A similar event now also takes place in the embassy in Paris, while throughout the year the contribution of our embassies in advancing business development initiatives, hosting target customer groups for Irish food and drink, supporting our presence at trade fairs around the world and showcasing Irish food during Saint Patrick's Day cannot be overstated.

Our international network plays a critical role in what we do. It enables us to sustain relationships with existing and potential customers and a network of contacts which are a key asset that we can leverage on behalf of exporters. That leverage will be utilised in February 2010 when as part of an initiative to intensify support to industry in the current difficult environment, 250 international food and drink purchasers will be invited to Dublin to meet with 150 Irish companies seeking to build and expand their business overseas. Our overseas presence facilitates the types of insights into food markets that go with total immersion in the marketplace and which allow us provide specialist support to the industry we serve.

Market knowledge and consumer insight and understanding inform all of what we do and comprise an area in which we make a significant and ongoing investment. Our consumer lifestyle trends programme draws on research from markets around the world accounting for 80% of global GDP, with examples of product innovation sourced by "streetscapers" located in 40 cities in every continent. Our periscope research has been tracking consumer attitudes in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain for the last decade.

Like many industries, the food and drink sector faces a world of opportunities but never enough resources to explore them. This year we launched the Bord Bia marketing fellowship programme to put 25 recent graduates, already with upwards of three years' work experience, into 12 overseas markets, covering the United Kingdom, Europe, Russia, the United States and Asia. They will work on 168 commercial assignments for 113 Irish exporters while also meeting the rigorous disciplines of the UCD Smurfit School of Business from which they will, at the end of the programme, receive a masters degree. We are confident the programme will bring renewed energy, vitality and fresh thinking while adding further momentum to the search for new markets, new opportunities, and most of all new business for Irish food and drink. The 25 graduates will commence their placements next Monday. The Department of Foreign Affairs has been highly supportive of the initiative, particularly in supporting organisation on the ground in the case of areas where we do not have a physical presence, namely, in Copenhagen, Warsaw and Dubai.

In the meantime, we have launched a new trade awareness campaign, covering 12 markets and incorporating on-line and off-line advertising and social media, to bring Ireland and its food and drink manufacturers' front of mind among continental European buyers. It positions Ireland as having the perfect formula for quality food production, blending sustainable resources with applied innovation and world class service. The initiative is part of our drive to seek out new business and will complement the arrival of our 25 marketing fellows in the market while working to heighten interest in sourcing from Ireland in the approach to Marketplace 2010, the programme that will bring 250 buyers to Ireland next February.

The Irish food and drink industry has never needed support more than now. The economic downturn combined with a massive 30% depreciation in sterling and a collapse in world dairy markets mean that as the industry strives to defend market share, the value of Irish food and drink exports in euro terms is set to fall substantially in the current year. That the industry must now also compete with cheaper sterling-based food imports on its own domestic market exacerbates its difficulties.

Irish companies have responded to these challenges by introducing cost reduction initiatives, reformulating offers, sharing distribution and other costs, seeking price increases where available, and prioritising strategically important businesses while exiting low margin ones. Bord Bia, through our London office, has facilitated these choices by providing companies with access to local market mentors, that is, experienced former or current retail and food service buyers who provide advice on optimal business development and key account management strategies. We also provide access to "route to market" experts who can help companies identify, select and contract cost-efficient, best-in-class logistics, sales and marketing service providers.

Current difficulties should not divert us from recognising the significant progress industry continues to make in carving out new market positions and searching out new opportunities and new business. The transformation of the profile of Irish beef exports, from one principally focused on volatile, international markets in the last and previous decades, to one almost completely focused on the consumer markets of Europe has been one of the most impressive achievements of recent times. Irish beef is now listed on more high-end supermarket shelves in more markets than beef of any other origin anywhere else in the world.

In partnership with the industry, and funded as we are partly by levies on the sector, Bord Bia is working actively with more than 70 supermarket groups to advance a strategy of differentiation and repositioning that will continue to add value to its business. In the dairy sector we have defined our strategy as enabling strategic choices through market knowledge, recognising the unique structure of the industry and the prospect that many such choices, of how and where to compete, must be made in the years ahead by an industry with the potential to raise its output by some 50% as quotas are lifted. Our research to date of future market opportunities, in an agenda agreed in advance and shared with the dairy industry, has reviewed the potential for both consumer-ready products and dairy ingredients in areas such as sports, medical and infant nutrition across all major member states of the EU. We have similarly examined the potential for the continued development of exports to the growth markets of Asia and Russia.

We also possess a vibrant and dynamic artisan and small food business sector. Although most of its business by its nature is domestically focussed, it has never felt constrained by borders and many players, particularly in the farmhouse cheese sector, have been successfully building profitable niches in markets such as the UK and the US. Bord Bia operates a dedicated centre of excellence for small business, supporting more than 300 owner managed firms, while more than 30 companies participated in our market readiness programme this year, designed to brief and prepare businesses targeting the US.

Notwithstanding the formidable challenges of today's marketplace, earlier this year Bord Bia set out a target for building Irish food and drink exports to €10 billion. We did so in the knowledge that, driven by the evolving demographics of the global population, the world will need to produce almost 50% more food by 2030 and will need to almost double food production by 2050. We set out six strategic priorities for our organisation, in support of this target and which would inform and dictate the allocation of resources in the period ahead. I will not go into them all now other than to say that among those priorities is the need to broaden the industry's export reach, to drive consumer-focussed innovation based on emerging global trends and to promote and position Ireland as the sustainable food island. Farming and food is Ireland's strength. A recent independent study of 18 of Europe's leading retailers, undertaken on behalf of Bord Bia, recognised our natural advantages in grassland production and animal welfare. It described Ireland as a trustworthy food source, strong on heritage and strong on tradition. This is what we intend to build upon.

Recently, we had the opportunity to present our strategy and our priorities to the Department of Foreign Affairs and its ambassadors, who have a key role to play in helping us realise our ambitions. That role will be particularly important in helping to foster business relationships internationally at the highest level, maximising market access for Irish food exports and developing the awareness of Ireland as a sustainable food island with a major customer and export orientation. Following the success of the recent Farmleigh global Irish economic forum, significant scope exists to further build on a global food-specific diaspora, a diaspora whose potential could be harnessed locally by embassies and Bord Bia working in key target markets. By virtue of its singular sector focus this could make an important contribution to the development of markets for Irish food and drink.

I thank the Chairman and members for affording me the opportunity to address the committee today. We are happy to address any questions the committee wishes to ask.

I thank Mr. Cotter for his rapid coverage of a wide area of interest. The delegation has indicated how dynamic Bord Bia is in what it is attempting to do and the importance of Irish food. We must support the export drive because it will be crucial to us for the future. I invite Mr. Burns to make his presentation to the committee.

Mr. Henry Burns

The IFA has not been before this committee too many times and we welcome this opportunity. I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation and the opportunity for the IFA to address the committee today. I apologise that our president, Mr. Padraig Walshe, cannot attend as he is chairing a meeting of our national council in advance of our pre-budget lobbying of public representatives from this House later today.

I am chairman of the IFA national sheep committee and a member of our executive council. I am joined by Ms Elaine Farrell, our Oireachtas liaison executive. I am a sheep and mixed sheep farmer from County Laois. It is always important to state this in case people think we become polished and detached from our job. First and foremost, we are farmers. We are trying to improve the situation for our counterparts.

In today's address, I will outline the current difficult farm income situation, highlight the importance of the agriculture sector and food exports to our economy, outline the potential growth areas and deal with some specific points on trade promotion. Unfortunately, farming and the agrisector, like most other sectors in the economy, are going through very challenging times. Farm incomes fell by 13% in 2008. Low prices for milk, beef and grain, higher costs and very difficult weather conditions have seen incomes fall by more than 20% again this year. This figure could be as high as 40% for some sectors when the Government cuts on REPS, disadvantaged areas, the suckler cow welfare scheme and other cuts are accounted for. In 2008 the average farm income of €17,000 is about half of the average industrial wage and only one third of the average public sector earnings of approximately €50,000. In 2009, there is no doubt this income divergence will increase even further. The Government must take these facts into consideration in the forthcoming budget. Farming and agriculture have already taken more than their fair share of the cuts. It is critically important to support the productive sectors through these difficult times to maintain jobs, drive exports and growth as inevitably market conditions will improve.

Agriculture and the export dependent agrifood sector are of major importance to our economy. Some 270,000 people are employed in agriculture, the agrifood industry and related service industries. This represents one in seven jobs in the economy. We export €8 billion in food and drink annually, which is 50% of exports from indigenous manufacturers. It is a low import industry and the majority of profits generated stay in the country. Due to these features, the sector generates almost one third of Ireland's net foreign earnings. The CAP is of huge importance to agriculture, providing inward supports of approximately €1.8 billion annually. This is also vitally important as a source of net income for the Irish economy.

The prospects for our tourism industry are closely bound to the strength of our agriculture sector. Visitors are attracted to the uniqueness of the Irish countryside, where the rural environment is being cared for by a vibrant rural community. In the upcoming negotiations on the future of the CAP post-2013, it is critical that the Government strongly defends this common EU policy, which supports primary production and family farms. The location of the agrifood industry, covering every corner of Ireland, ensures economic activity even in the most remote areas.

We were disappointed that there was not more agriculture-related content at the economic forum in Farmleigh in September. As a result, the IFA decided, with the support of agribusiness, to have our own Farmleigh. We felt it was hugely important to remind people of the importance of the sector to the national economy, rural life and rural society. We wanted to get the industry thinking about solutions to the challenges we face, including high costs of production, regulatory barriers, difficulties posed by the devaluation of sterling and the power of the retail multiples. We are marketing Irish produce to best advantage, both at home and abroad. Are there new markets to be entered and can Irish produce attract a higher premium in niche markets?

On 3 November, more than 700 delegates attended the IFA economic forum on farming and the agrifood industry in the RDS. This conference brought together the leaders of agriculture and the agrifood sector, including the CEOs of the largest agrifood and agribusiness companies in Ireland. The combined turnover of the Irish-based, globally renowned agrifood companies in attendance at the forum was in excess of €15 billion. The purpose of the forum was to discuss the future of the industry and to develop a roadmap to achieve its potential. Farming and agrifood have been referred to as a sunset industry. The reality could not be further from this. Our downturn has demonstrated the fragile nature of the recent drivers of economic growth — a construction boom, unchecked consumer spending and an unregulated and now bankrupt financial sector. One thing we know for sure is that economic recovery will not be found within these sectors. Our economic recovery will be export-led. Farming and the agrifood sector have a real contribution to make to Ireland's economic recovery.

The key messages that emerged from the IFA forum were that there is a clear opportunity for food production growth. A rapidly growing world population and an increase in population wealth will lead to doubling in demand for food production by 2050 and an increase in demand for dairy and red meat products. An example of this is the potential to expand dairy production in Ireland by 50% over the next decade. However, this will require greater use of technology, industry consolidation and political support. The current threat to the livelihood of primary producers could undermine the ability of the agri-food sector to achieve this potential. Support for the primary producer is critical and funding for vital farm schemes which affect family farm income must be maintained.

Decisions made by the Government today will affect the ability of the agriculture sector to take advantage of growing demand and will determine the long-term future of the sector. A strategic plan is needed for the agri-food sector. Every stakeholder in the sector, from primary production to food processing, marketing and related tourism and agribusiness industries must speak to each other and work together. The immediate problems that must be addressed include the need to get credit flowing back into small businesses and the competitive difficulties posed by the devaluation of sterling over the past year. The 30% sterling devaluation is a major problem for our agri-exports.

The agri-food sector must be internationally competitive and the Government must reduce uncompetitive business costs, including energy, waste and utility costs, and pass cost savings to the agri-food sector. The introduction of a carbon tax as currently proposed will simply increase the costs of production and undermine the international competitiveness of the agri-food industry. Regulation of the sector must be appropriate and must allow producers to compete fairly. The Government's policy on GM feed was criticised for adding unnecessary costs to production not borne by other international producers. At EU level, farmers must have certainty of the support that will be available in the future. It is critical that post-2013 the CAP contains risk management instruments to deal with income volatility and support the family farm structure.

I will now consider the opportunities. UN projections estimate that between now and 2050, demand for food production will double. Ireland has the potential to expand agriculture production in an environmentally sustainable way to meet this increased demand. The IFA estimates that export earnings from the agri-food sector have the potential to increase by more than €2 billion, with an increase in employment of 16,000. Opportunities exist in established and newer farm enterprises, including dairy where phasing out of the milk quota provides an opportunity for significant expansion in production for the internationally competitive Irish dairy sector. In livestock, with a future EU beef production deficit of between 700,000 tonnes and 1 million tonnes, there is potential for earnings growth for high-quality grass-based Irish beef. In aquaculture, the implementation of the Cawley report and removal of licensing backlog will increase earnings and employment. In forestry and tillage there is potential to increase biomass supply to meet renewable energy targets and reduce carbon emissions. There is also significant potential in other sectors such as sheepmeat, horticulture and other areas to increase production, create more jobs and deliver more exports.

I have a number of points to make on foreign trade promotion and the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and agencies such as Bord Bia. On the international stage, market access is essential and the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Bord Bia play a major role in winning market access. The involvement of a Minister for Foreign Affairs or Agriculture, Fisheries and Food can make all the difference. It is essential that agriculture and our agri-food industry has an organisation such as Bord Bia, with its unique specialisation available to market and promote our produce in the global market place, to maximise the full potential of our exports. All of its overseas offices have agri-food experts and specialists with unique knowledge of Ireland, our food production and export capability. This type of expert and specialist knowledge in our overseas markets is extremely important and came to the fore in handling difficult problems such as the dioxin scare last year.

Our main export meat products, such as beef, lamb and pork tend to be unbranded and therefore we need strong, well-resourced, promotional agencies such as Bord Bia. It is very different for strongly-branded products such as Guinness or Baileys. The unique structure of Bord Bia, particularly the meat and livestock board with its farmer levy finance mechanism, and additional Government funding is very important to its success. This structure ensures that farmers' money is spent directly on promoting our products in the marketplace at home and abroad.

Co-ordination between the various Departments and agencies operating in the agri-food sector is very important. It is crucial that Teagasc, Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland work together, to avoid duplication and ensure efficiency. However, agriculture with exports of €8 billion and the potential to grow to €10 billion must have a dedicated organisation such as Bord Bia to promote the brand of Ireland and the food island. In this context, Colm McCarthy, author of the bord snip nua report is fundamentally wrong in proposing that Bord Bia be integrated into Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The challenge for our processors selling to the powerful supermarket retail sector is huge. In Ireland alone, supermarket concentration is extremely high with three retailers controlling 70% of the grocery market. The IFA has proposed a statutory code of practice and an ombudsman to regulate the retail trade and address the major imbalance of power in the food chain which places unsustainable negative price pressure on processors and, in turn, on producers. This would operate at both national and EU level. Farmers cannot produce food at below the cost of production.

I will now discuss our vision. We must transform the aspiration of "Ireland the Food Island" into a reality, with Irish food on the shelves of high-value retail outlets throughout the EU and growing Asian markets. We must continue to build on the natural advantage of our grass-based production system and create a high-value industry, leading the world in premium food production. It is vital for the sector that sufficient research is undertaken at all levels of the industry from primary production through processing and marketing and that we attract the brightest talents into our industry. Provided we do this, we will be successful in ensuring a viable rural community, attracting locally-based employers and inward investment.

A thriving food-based tourism industry will draw visitors from within Ireland and from overseas. We must set standards for excellence and exceed our customers' expectations on delivery. Sustaining the primary agriculture base is critical if the indigenous agri-food industry is to grow. We can do this only by working together with the help of Government policies that support and allow us realise the potential of the industry.

I thank Mr. Burns. We have heard two very interesting contributions and they will be valuable additions to our thinking. We will now have questions from members and then return to the delegations.

I welcome the delegations. Their presentations have been valuable. A few points occurred to me, some of which have been referred to. It is very good forward thinking to have 25 graduate placements in marketing. While I state that, it is a great disappointment that such a placement strategy has not been taken up in other State and semi-State bodies, particularly when we have so many unemployed graduates. Mr. Burns mentioned the importance of branding, and in many cases opportunities in the volume of agricultural exports are structured around successful branding. Examples of this are the fact that it was made possible for internationally competitive Irish food production bodies to acquire parts of other companies, including nutrients, by successful branding. In this regard, I wish the delegations well.

Interesting points arose on the projected international demand for food. The food crisis is one of the four major crises affecting the planet at present. The others are the environmental crisis, the energy crisis and the crisis in financial services and regulation. Members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs are familiar with other strategies that countries are taking, such as the recent very large volume purchases of land in Africa by countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, the United States and several other countries, aimed at producing food in an entirely different model. This represents a threat to the industry in Ireland and indigenous producers in the affected countries. It has the potential to wipe out sustainable agriculture in west Africa, for example.

I am grateful for the salutatory reminder about the consequences of the 30% devaluation of sterling, which could have had a ruinous impact. Mr. Burns reminded us what life is like in the real economy. I am glad he took the opportunity to speak about the price we are now paying for the artificial or speculative economy. He set out the harsh fact that the average farm income, at €17,000, is half the average industrial wage.

The future of farming depends on a vibrant rural society. Beyond the branding and the reference to Farmleigh, it is interesting to note how imaginative ideas can be brought together. In the film world, for example, "Babette's Feast" used food to such an extent that one could almost taste and smell the dishes. The preparation of Irish food is better than was the case heretofore, which creates opportunities. Viable agriculture makes possible a vibrant rural society and, in turn, a tourist industry. The contrary view is taken by the NRA, which is busily destroying everything people come to see in Ireland. I cannot see how one can reconcile the notion that people would want to tour Ireland in the shortest possible time with the slow preparation of Irish meals using good Irish ingredients. It is time we are reminded of the contradictions in these objectives.

Other parts of the real economy, such as the Government's capital projects, could create opportunities for using biomass in large scale developments. We should be open to grafting that kind of energy usage on to aspects of rural Ireland.

It is unsustainable to continue ignoring the power structure of the retail sector. Producers and consumers face a lack of transparency in regard to profit margins. I have the greatest of sympathy for primary producers.

The message I take from the presentations is on the value of an integrated approach. I am sure members agree that it would be disastrous to implement the McCarthy proposals on closing embassies in view of the expertise they provide in crucial markets. Once the chancers have stopped playing golf, the way out of the morass will be export led.

I am not sure how the issue of genetically modified organisms in animal feedstuff can be resolved. The advantages of high quality and environmentally sustainable production are important, however.

I thank Mr. Cotter and Mr. Burns for their worthwhile presentations. Those of us who have travelled abroad recognise the tremendous contributions made by our embassies and agencies in promoting Ireland and developing international markets. I concur with Deputy Higgins that it is not in this country's interest to reduce our overseas facilities because they pay for themselves many times over.

Mr. Cotter referred to the promoting Ireland abroad unit. How is the unit working and can it be improved? I entirely agree with Mr. Burns on the contribution that farming and the agri-food sector will make to economic recovery. Those of us who come from rural areas are conscious of the sector's importance and of the issues he raised about the difficulties it currently experiences. We will have an opportunity later this afternoon to meet his colleagues and hear in more detail how they feel the problems can be addressed. On the development of overseas markets, were State agencies involved in the economic forum established by farmers? Have any of the 25 graduates on the marketing fellowship initiative taken up duty overseas or are they still in training? How do the delegates see this initiative developing?

What preparations are we making for the next round of World Trade Organisation negotiations? Sterling depreciation is a serious problem for the food processing industry. I marvel at how well processors in my constituency have managed to deal with 30% devaluation. It is great credit to these companies and their staff that they have been able to maintain their market position. What should the Government's priorities be if we are to reach the €10 billion target?

I welcome the delegation and thank Mr. Cotter and Mr. Burns for their contributions. It is not an accident of the international recession that sterling has depreciated; it is a deliberate policy of the British Government and the Bank of England. It is not likely to change when more normal economic circumstances reassert themselves internationally, as it is a deliberate policy to affect terms of trade, reduce imports and encourage exports.

Are there any further short-term initiatives which either the IFA or Bord Bia would see as possible for the Government to implement to ease the pressure on Irish food exporters? What is the medium-term strategy for this? The UK is clearly still a very big market, as Deputy O'Hanlon has said. We are familiar with anecdotal evidence of the pressures on food producers like chicken and other poultry producers, as well as mushroom growers. The wider food industry has also been severely affected and because it is a deliberate instrument of British policy rather than a passing phase of the recession, it will be built into the terms of trade for a long time to come. Are there measures which the IFA or Bord Bia could advocate that the Government implement to ease the problem?

I also welcome both sets of speakers and I intend to read the presentations again when I have more time to assimilate the points. There is no doubt that Bord Bia has been acknowledged throughout the length and breadth not only of Ireland, but also in Europe and Asia. I witnessed this when I was away and I saw how it worked with the embassies to promote Irish food and drink in international markets. I also welcome the concept of opening this up to young graduates because they will bring new ideas, vitality and energy to the market in how we promote future strategies.

However, we are thinking anew about climate change and I did not hear any suggestions in this regard. There are national and international concerns about health and the education of young people about food. This is a significant marketing area because most young people and highly-educated graduates want to know more about food. The home economics departments in our schools and colleges do much work but we could work better with them to promote the concept of our agribusiness and the stakeholders in food production and processing, tourism, branding and education. The marketing area is colossal and while I compliment the work being done, we could do much more.

The level of obesity in the country is a negative so the delegations must have taken this into account. Have they touched on such areas in the promotion of agribusiness, food and drink?

I thank our guests for their most informative presentation. I compliment them on the work being done to increase our exports at this time of crisis. I agree that there is great potential out there for growing our export levels and, as has been said, the population of the world is set to double. There will be difficulties in food production around the world and we have the potential to gain from that because such difficulties will not be experienced here.

I would like to know more about targets. There was no mention of timescales for the growth to €10 billion per year so what targets have been put in place? How will those targets be monitored?

My second question is on added-value products. The witnesses noted that 20% of our exports are added-value products in food production but what growth levels are expected in that area? Are we pushing for an increase in those types of product? I know organisations like the partnership boards — we have one in Meath — have done tremendous work in developing businesses dealing with food production and artisan-type products. Senator White's company of Lir Chocolates is a fantastic example of how we can grow our exports. Could we grow the value-added product area?

My third question relates to the sterling rate in the UK. The delegations indicated that we had €4 billion in exports to the UK last year, but that will be affected by the exchange rate as well as the competitiveness of sterling. How much of a monetary effect will that have in the next year?

My final question relates to the rest of the EU. Some 30% of our exports go to the rest of the EU but what kind of growth rates have we seen in those countries that have recently joined the European Union? Are there higher growth rates in such countries? The McCarthy report indicated that there should be rationalisation in Irish buildings abroad and European Union buildings should be used instead. Will that have an impact on the ability of Bord Bia to continue providing its service in foreign cities and countries? That was raised earlier as well.

I thank Mr. Cotter and Mr. Burns for the presentation. I will call for a discussion on the Irish food and drinks industry tomorrow on the Order of Business in the Seanad. Everybody in these Houses should be exposed to the information from the two witnesses, as it has been fantastic. A third of our employment comes from the food and drinks industry and two thirds of our indigenous manufacturers are involved in it.

There is no doubt that inward investment and multinationals always appear to be more sexy and glamorous but, as Mr. Burns stated, this issue is about our environment. We have it within ourselves to keep growing the food and drinks industry. I have personal experience of dealing with Bord Bia and I am delighted to thank Mr. Michael Murphy and Mr. Cotter for all the tremendous help they gave my company. There are 200 people employed in Lir Chocolates in Navan, which is Senator Hannigan's constituency.

As Deputy Noonan noted, Irish food companies which are exporting to the UK are being crucified by the effective devaluation of sterling. We are not able to do this so it never ceases to amaze me how the food and drinks companies exporting to that market keep going. It augurs well for a time when the recession will lift.

I will ask about our own lack of competitiveness within the country. How are we managing our costs from an international competitiveness perspective? How are we shaping up in that regard? There are external factors such as the effective devaluation of sterling but we have our own costs, so how are they being tracked? I thank the witnesses.

The delegation has had questions from members. They will appreciate that the committee is preparing a report and we would like to keep in touch with the witnesses about the items in it. What has been said by the witnesses is strongly along the lines of what the committee has argued. Our future is in exporting and it is already a very significant part of our economy. The witnesses have argued very clearly that they see a similar approach.

The question is how to co-ordinate efforts, as there are so many markets where we do not have much involvement. For example, what are we doing about the newer member states of the European Union and are we equipped to deal with them? I doubt that very much if we consider the foreign affairs locations and staff. They do an excellent job but they are not in a position to deal with the opportunities which exist. There is not even potential for a decent share of them.

I was recently invited to some of these countries to speak about what we tackle such issues. Enterprise Ireland may be in one country but looking after three countries, and that is not the way to do it. There is need for more targeting and co-ordination in areas where there are opportunities. Some of these relate very much to services such as engineering and others, in which Ireland is strong. Like my colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, I am delighted to see the marketing fellowship initiative. We have been looking for a much wider involvement there because Ireland has so many people with so much ability in the different areas. The delegates are the people who have experience, as are the representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs, on the one hand, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the other. These people are ready to be involved and we hope there can be much more such involvement because the opportunities are there.

Deputy Michael Noonan brought out very clearly the 30% devaluation in Britain and the effect it has had, particularly on our indigenous agricultural produce which is a significant factor in Britain. If one looks at the figures for the first six months, the UK market was down by 8%, with €8 billion reduced to €7.4 billion. The rest of Europe was slightly up, by 1%, and the USA was up by 16%. The rest of the world was down approximately 3%. The impact of devaluation was hugely important. I do not believe people in this country realise just what it has meant and the related struggle for people selling our product in the UK.

I shall hand over to Mr. Cotter to answer the questions as he sees fit, bearing in mind that we can communicate subsequently regarding further information, if that is necessary.

Mr. Aidan Cotter

Thank you, Chairman. From the outset the question has been how we can promote Ireland abroad and what might be done to better co-ordinate and intensify the effort. From our side of the room, it is most important that people have an appreciation of just how important the food industry is on the one hand, but even more, how important is the potential for this industry to contribute into the future. It may be regarded sometimes as the old economy but it is the real economy. There is huge potential for growth. I referred to the need for double production by 2050 and an increase of 50% by 2030. The issue still remains that there are 1 billion people in the world who do not have enough to eat. Not enough food is being produced and what is there is not getting to the people who really need it. This may be a separate issue but food security is extremely important. If there were a greater appreciation where needed of the importance and potential of this industry, we would be well on the road towards exploiting that potential and delivering on it.

Many supportive comments were made about our marketing fellowship programme and we very much appreciate them. We are extremely pleased with that programme. When we launched it in summer 2009, we were inundated with applications. The graduates started in October and already have undertaken a three-week module at the Smurfit School of Business, UCD. In all, they will do six different modules there. They have also been visiting the companies with which they will be working in the marketplace and have spent time with them learning to understand their business. That part of the programme will finish this weekend and on Monday the graduates will go out into the markets in the UK, the United States, the Continent, Russia and Asia. They will liaise with our offices internationally and with our embassies, whose support is very important. They will be working on commercial assignment on behalf of the companies and will report on a weekly basis back to the Smurfit School of Business. In this way, rigour and discipline will be imposed on the commercial element.

The graduates will come back to complete five further modules and there will be guest lecturers from other well-known business schools around the world. The programme has received a great feedback from the companies in question, which total 113, with 168 assignments. From our point of view, it will give us the best overview ever of the opportunities out there that, to date, we have not been able to pursue. We are very much looking forward to monitoring that programme and building further on it and we very much appreciate the supportive comments in its regard.

The depreciation of sterling is a major issue. It is the single biggest issue facing the industry today because it affects not only the 45% that goes to the UK, but also our companies competing in the home market because the UK exports significantly into Ireland. The UK product is on supermarket shelves at a period when there has been very significant change in the home retail sector.

What more can be done? I mentioned the type of things we are doing, helping companies provide mentoring services and so on. The industry made the point that this year there is enormous market disruption with a 30% decline over a two-year period. This decline dates approximately from October 2007 and is 13% year on year so far. Even UK retailers to whom I have been speaking are conscious that the rapidity of the depreciation is at such a rate that no industry or company can adapt their business to meet it. This is especially so in an industry that operates with wafer thin margins and has a particularly high cost base. This last has come about because of the way the economy has developed in recent years. We have high energy and high labour costs and there are significant issues around our cost base. The question was asked how we can address our cost base. This is clearly an issue the industry is struggling with and must yet address, in the short term. However, it is finding difficulties and will welcome any support it can get. It has been lobbying for such support but there are state aid rules which do not seem to recognise the extent of market disruption the industry has faced. We should remember we are unique in the eurozone in that we share a land border with the sterling area. The expectation of rapid adjustment is present and consumers expect it. It is a very significant difficulty.

There was reference to climate change and its importance. I made a number of references to promoting Ireland as a sustainable food island which is one of our strategic priorities. It is no longer good enough for us as a country to say we are pure, green and natural. Today, we must demonstrate and prove this. That is related to climate change and it is in that context that we speak about sustainability. We recognise how quickly the world is changing. The survey I spoke about with regard to the leading retailers in Europe was about sustainability and the expectations of those retailers concerning us. Consumers are not making purchasing choices on the basis of sustainability today but the retailers are convinced it will be only a short time before they will do so and we need to be ready for that. We believe Ireland is in a very good place to work on this area and gain competitive advantage in the marketplace with regard to sustainability. We must work throughout the food chain to demonstrate and measure our sustainability credentials. I believe these will be very strong and will play an important role in positioning us to achieve €10 billion within a reasonable timeframe.

The question was raised as to how long that timeframe would be. Initially, at the beginning of this year, we set out that we wanted this to happen within three years. At that time, our exports were worth €8.2 billion but today, because of the disruption, the world collapse of the dairy market, the sterling issue and the impact of the economic downturn, we expect that €8.2 billion to fall very substantially. However, it will remain above €7 billion. We have taken one step backwards and must now take three steps forward. That is a big challenge and the timeframe must widen, given the conditions of the world economy. However, the improvement in that economy should help us in this regard.

There was a question about prepared foods and their role. The figure is 20%. The prepared foods area must grow because we cannot depend on primary raw materials on their own. We must add value to them and develop the added value sector. There are excellent examples of companies that have done extremely well and Senator Mary White is one of those entrepreneurs who have led that movement. We need such entrepreneurs to help and support the industry into the future and deliver that growth in the prepared foods sector. We are strong in the other primary areas.

There was a reference to obesity and what we do about it. We have been running the food dudes programme for approximately three years. On the basis of funding given to us by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food we are rolling out the programme to primary schools throughout the country. It is a proven method of introducing fruit and vegetables to young school children over a six week period whereby they are encouraged through peer example to eat more fruit and vegetables. It has been well documented and scientifically demonstrated that this is working positively towards addressing healthy eating issues and, therefore, obesity. We have a very significant programme in that area. I do not wish to take up too much time but if there are other questions I will come back to them.

Before he left, Deputy Timmins asked about the number of people in the overseas office.

Mr. Aidan Cotter

I mentioned that we are an organisation of 100 people. We must spread our resources across many responsibilities, including a responsibility to the Irish market. We have a very significant presence to help small artisan businesses and this was referred to earlier. We must promote here on the home market also. Some 25 people work in our overseas offices. In addition, as I mentioned in my address, there are people working on the export orientation programme, graduates that stay with us for 12 months. Some 12 of these are placed in the overseas offices. They are learning skills and supplementing our resources abroad, bringing up that number of 25 further. Some eight people work out of the Dublin offices. Their responsibilities include closing off opportunities not immediately covered by our offices, wherever these may occur throughout the world. We recognise that the fellowship of the 25 people out there will further supplement the resources. As with every other organisation in the country, we are having to deploy resources in the most cost effective manner in a very difficult time and this is what we are trying to do in the allocation of resources. We have a market prioritisation process in place, somewhat like an economic model. Equally, we depend on commercial companies to lead our activities and to tell us where we should be. We are deploying scare resources in the best possible way through a range of prioritisation processes.

Unfortunately, I am caught with another committee meeting I must attend. I address my comments to Mr. Burns given that he is on the production side. Our embassies are not playing enough of a role in the whole marketing initiative for Ireland, especially in the food sector. This is not to suggest there is not wonderful work being done; there is and I congratulate the IFA for it. It bothers me that it is only in the past month we opened an embassy in Dubai, the centre of the emerging world and an area of vast potential for Irish food.

In a recent trip to Vietnam I was asked by someone in the industry to consider the issue of powdered milk. I visited several large supermarkets. There were whole sections given over to powdered milk but I could not find any Irish product. Perhaps I was in the wrong place. Powdered milk is a huge product in Vietnam, an emerging market. I did not have the chance to check it out since then and perhaps there is a large exporter there but certainly it was not on the shelves of the larger supermarkets in Hanoi which I visited. Are we doing as much as we could? Could we get our embassies to focus their minds more on selling Ireland rather than bureaucracy?

I thank Deputy Fahey. Several of us have experiences like that. The movement in Dubai in especially valuable and helpful at this stage.

Mr. Henry Burns

Many questions have been raised and I will try to go through them as quickly as possible. I refer to the sterling issue because it came up with nearly everyone and obviously it is crucial. Nearly 60% of our beef goes to the UK, mostly in fresh form. It is obvious this is a very important issue for us. As far back as this time last year, the IFA and the Irish Exporters Association made proposals to Government on what could be done to ease the sterling situation. There may be an issue with State aid. The issue concerns us and was raised by many companies present at our forum last week. We do not see any activity on this front. The Government does not appear to be raising this matter at EU level and, ultimately, it is an EU issue.

The UK was still a member state of the EU the last time I looked. It is not part of the eurozone but, ultimately, there must be some discussions. We are the people mainly affected and no one else will drive the issue strongly. It is a matter for the Government at every level including the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It should be raised at EU level as an issue, but we do not see any evidence of this. This is a very significant issue for the industry. We have seen the issue of €4 billion and what could happen to that this year. We must see more evidence of that.

Is the IFA driving that?

Mr. Henry Burns

We do not have all the answers. If State aid rules are a problem, it is a fair discrimination against those of us who have, rightly, fully embraced the euro. In the present circumstances it is the right place to be and one cannot argue against that. Years ago, we used to have the devaluation of the green pound and that used to get us out of problems with sterling. We no longer have that mechanism. The EU must be asked to consider the matter to see what can be done. Deputy Noonan stated he does not see the matter clearing up and I must agree with him because the policy in the UK seems to be if there is a quiver anywhere, to weaken the currency again and again.

It is not a political issue, it is a structural issue.

Mr. Henry Burns

Absolutely, and they are very clear about it and do not hide behind it. However, it may need to be discussed by Heads of State at EU level. It is beyond my level but we must see some evidence of it and some stability brought to bear. Otherwise it could have a very significant impact on our most important industry.

Leaving aside that there is a great positive to consider. If something could be done, there is great demand for beef in the UK, for instance. Their production is falling and consumption is increasing. In the present circumstances, consumption is something of an issue but that will recover, as will economies in general. This may be more relevant for Bord Bía, but consumption of lamb grew year on year for the past three years and production has declined in the UK such that there are great openings for us. There are great positives to be taken.

Towards the end of his contribution, Deputy Higgins referred to supermarkets and their power. It is not strictly a matter for this committee but unless something happens in this area there will be problems. I draw parallels to the financial sectors. It was left unregulated. We were told this is the new world in which we would live and there was a view that competition would sort out everything. We have seen clearly that competition meant that people had to compete. The only way they could increase bonuses and wages was to complete and sell more money and they did not consider what they were doing so closely. The same is taking place in the retail sector as well and this is affecting the primary producer.

There is probably 30% excess capacity in the retail sector in Ireland, but that is not for me to say. None of it has gone away yet but the reaction to the 30% excess is to fight for foot fall and the primary producer is getting crushed. We were being paid a price barely above the cost of production during the era of the Celtic tiger. We are now in a recession and they are asking us to fund their two for one and half price offers. Clearly, we cannot do that. It will not be solved in that way. It is an issue the Irish must drive at EU level. We must have regulation of supermarkets. It is that simple.

There is a tremendous opportunity for this committee to support the IFA and the Irish Exporters Association on the issue Mr. Burns has raised in respect of export credit relief. The committee should on take that issue and energise the Government about it because it is more important and significant than looking for new markets, which is expensive. Existing markets are trying to cope with severe devaluation in the United Kingdom.

It would be very useful if the same presentation was made at the Joint Committee on European Affairs——

——particularly as we are awaiting the appointment of a new Commission. This has been a valuable presentation, but the matter is also urgent and immediate business for the Joint Committee on European Affairs. I suggest we seek an opportunity for the delegation to make a presentation to that committee as quickly as possible before the appointment of the new Commission.

We will communicate with the committee after the meeting.

Can we put a proposal to it? The export credit issue is the most crucial facing indigenous industries. Because the average person does not understand what the language means he or she fails to grasp the consequences. We have to get the Government to listen. If there is anything I can do to help the delegation, it should let me know.

I have to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. It would be useful for Bord Bia and others to consider extending the programme on the employment of marketing graduates to other economic graduates because they could examine issues such as the structure of markets, particularly the vulnerability of the sterling area versus the euro zone and so on. Good people are available to do that work.

There is a lot of scope in that regard. People can forget that we have major capability in that area and should make use of it. The delegation can be sure we will press the issue and raise it in our report.

Mr. Henry Burns

Deputy Higgins and I referred to the issue of GM foods, as did many others. We are often told we should stay GM free and create a point of difference in Ireland. Government policy on the issue is very unclear and the Government has abstained in all the votes taken. The issue for us is that plenty of chicken and pork fed GM food is imported and eaten in this country. That is the reality for our farmers and processors and it is something with which they have to compete. We are fudging the issue because we are importing a lot of chicken and pork and eating it, which is fine, but the cost of feed to farmers here could be 30% to 40% higher than in other areas. We have to make up our minds and come down on one side of the debate. The regulation of agriculture is a major issue and something on which farmers are supportive. It is good to have food which can be properly traced and constitues a point of difference for us. We have been and will remain consistent on the issue that there has to be equivalence in standards and that we have to have a level playing field.

Deputy O'Hanlon referred to the RDS forum and asked if State agencies were involved. Bord Bia, Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were involved. It was a great event which was totally focused on agriculture, but the holding of the forum stemmed mainly from the fact that agriculture had all been but ignored at the Farmleigh conference. The figures we have issued show clearly that it is crucial to the recovery of industry. We were disappointed with what had happened at that conference, but there were 700 people at the RDS who were totally focused on agriculture and it was a hugely successful event. A report on it will be sent to the Government and the success of the event can only be judged by what action it will take.

The issue of climate change was mentioned. Mr. Cotter said he knew from his contacts in Bord Bia that it was looking very closely at the issue and doing good work on it. It is a point of difference for us. There is a lot of discussion about cows and what they are doing to the atmosphere. However, one of the few natural resources we have in Ireland is grass. We no longer produce much lead or zinc and only produce a small amount of gas. We are good at growing grass which we can grow on hills and every corner of the country. As Deputy Higgins said, we need to have a vibrant rural agricultural industry which is the only industry which will introduce vibrancy to rural areas, areas in which Intel and other industries will not locate. If the cost of a farmer's inputs to produce a beef animal is €1,200, the entire amount is spent in the rural economy, unlike pharmaceutical industries which, although very important, import most of their inputs; their only Irish input is labour. In the agricultural industry all of the inputs are Irish. Our methods of production are sustainable. If we cut our beef herds or do not increase our dairy herds, millions of acres of rain forest will be cut down and stock will be produced somewhere else. Climate change is an issue because we have a sustainable model.

I am not qualified to comment on the issue of Irish products in Dubai. The issue is linked with the matters Bord Bia is covering and it has done a major job. There has a been a transformation in the beef industry, in which, as Mr. Cotter said, we have moved from a situation where most Irish companies were putting beef into intervention to putting it on supermarket shelves all over Europe. The current issue for farmers is that an average income of €17,000 is not sustainable. One might say the scale of some of the farms is not sustainable, but the family farming system has been proved to be the most sustainable across the world because a person is prepared to work for 70 hours for the cost of 35. If one has a large commercial farm, everyone has to paid. Our products are on the shelves, but the current issue for us is how we can move up the price chain in order that we can return a better price to the producer. It is important work which must be done.

I wish to ask Mr. Cotter about the slow food movement which is growing throughout Europe. It is a separate strain to volume production and the branded niches within that sector.

He has an additional point to make. I would like Mr. Burns to note that the committee did not ignore agriculture and thank him for coming before it.

Mr. Aidan Cotter

On the issue of climate change and sustainability, Ireland should focus on becoming the leading sustainable food producer in Europe. When food is produced, we should be able to demonstrate that we are the leading sustainable food producer.

On the comment made on the market in Vietnam, the value of exports of food and drink to Vietnam last year was just under €30 million. Dairy ingredients — including the powder referred to — comprised some €25 million of this sum. We must remember that when Ireland exports goods around the world, they may not appear on supermarket shelves as Irish goods, rather they may have to be modified, adapted and packaged in the local market. However, the markets are available and are being exploited. The Irish Dairy Board is doing a very good job in exploiting markets around the world.

On the question asked by Deputy's Higgins about slow food, it is a very big movement.

Particularly in Italy.

Mr. Aidan Cotter

Bord Bia exhibited on behalf of the Irish artisan sector at Salone del Gusto last year in Italy. All the leading members of the Terra Madre and the slow food movement in Ireland worked with us on the stand. We also supported a similar event in Waterford earlier this year. We work closely with that group because we believe it is a great heritage and has much to offer. We will work to cultivate it as much as other areas.

I thank Mr. Cotter. I am glad that in their contributions the delegates have emphasised the ministerial role overseas. People do not understand how this can help to open doors and in making contacts, which we regard as key. I was delighted that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment was in the Gulf states recently with a delegation. When I was invited to speak at an economic conference there a few years ago, I was struck that a great deal was happening there but that we were not present. Much more could happen. We might be able to get the doors open a little, but a Minister could open them much wider. They are a very important part of the dynamic development of the country. People need to understand this and the role of interparliamentary representations and connections.

We thank the delegates for their valuable and interesting presentations. They have seen the interest the Deputies have in what they are doing and the importance we attach to it. Their contributions will help to inform our report and we may contact them again to clarify some points. We are anxious to write our report reasonably quickly because we urgently need to address this issue.

The joint committee went into private session at 1.15 p.m and adjourned at 1.25 p.m. until4 p.m. on Wednesday, 18 November 2009.