Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ceisteanna (163)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

163. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to help farmers, especially beef farmers after Brexit. [9076/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Brexit has the potential to have a significant impact across all areas of the Irish agri food sector, including the beef sector.

The agri-food sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy.  Its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural Ireland in particular. Farming is an essential part of the social, cultural and economic fabric of the country and it is also part of a wider EU dispensation that values a Common Agriculture Policy built on family farming, food security, high standards of food safety and environmental sustainability. These are values that we hold dear, and so it is critically important when we consider the impact of Brexit that the positive contribution of agriculture to the rural and national economy, and to society in Ireland, and indeed elsewhere in the European Union, is to the forefront in our deliberations.

I and my Department have been very focused over the last 18 months on mitigating the short-term impacts arising from Brexit through practical actions aimed in particular at reducing costs for beef and other farmers.

In addition to the €150 million low-cost loan scheme I introduced under Budget 2017, I announced a further series of dedicated measures, amounting to over €50 million in total, in Budget 2018. I am also working with my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, on the introduction of the new €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme, in respect of which food businesses will have access to 40 per cent of the funding.

Market diversification is another key component of the Government response to the challenges posed by Brexit, as we seek to reduce our exposure to the UK market and develop alternative markets for our exports. So, for example, market prioritisation research commissioned by my Department and carried out by Bord Bia is informing the selection of Trade Mission destinations as well as my Department’s input to the Government’s Global Footprint Initiative.

Indeed, I will be leaving this weekend on a trade mission to the US and Canada, and will undertake further missions over the remainder of 2018, with a focus in particular on emerging markets that provide opportunities for further growth in agri-food exports.

Referring specifically to the beef sector, I fully acknowledge the contribution that Irish beef farmers are making to the agri economy, with beef accounting for €2.4bn, or almost 18%, of our agri food exports in 2017. The fact that it is founded on a predominantly pasture-based production system gives us a unique marketing advantage throughout the world in opening up new markets for Irish beef.

In addition to increasing markets for processed beef, I have, since I took office, made it a priority to increase the levels of live exports. The results of these efforts are being seen in an increase of 45,000 head, or 30%,in the number of live animals exported in 2017 compared to 2016. Two key elements of this increase were further additional exports of suckler bred animals to Turkey, and an increase in the export of dairy male calves which will have a positive consequence for the market for slaughtered cattle in 2018 and 2019. I see a vibrant live export trade as an important source of income for suckler farmers especially,and will continue my efforts in this area in 2018.

My Department and our agencies will continue to work with the sector to help mitigate the impacts of Brexit, particularly those affecting beef and other farmers, and we will continue to seek a negotiated outcome that will ensure that the trading relationship between the EU and the UK in its entirety post-Brexit will remain as close as possible to the current arrangements.