Thursday, 6 December 2018

Ceisteanna (10)

Peter Burke


10. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the supports provided to Bord Bia to assist agrifood businesses here find new markets for produce in the context of a potentially changed trading environment post Brexit. [51197/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Many agrifood businesses do much of their business with the UK. That relationship will change but I am a firm believer that every cloud has a silver lining and this might make us proactively consider other markets in an even more energetic way than we have done. What supports are there through Bord Bia for agribusiness?

Bord Bia’s work is critical to the success of the growth of our food and drinks exports. The agrifood sector accounted for more than 11% of total goods exports from Ireland last year and, since 2009, agrifood exports have increased in value by 74%, from €7.8 billion to €13.6 billion last year. Bord Bia has played a vital role in that export success by enhancing and promoting our focus on quality, innovation and sustainability. The development of the Origin Green programme, providing proof of the sector’s sustainability credentials, has played an important part.

Bord Bia works closely with my Department to prioritise and develop new markets, building on its significant investment in consumer and retail insights. As an agency, Bord Bia has played a key role in our Brexit response, facilitating conversations at the highest level with UK retail chief executive officers and ensuring that our ongoing commitment to the UK market is fully understood. In that context, I will meet many of our retail partners in London later this evening. We have no intention of stepping back from the UK market. On the contrary, we will redouble our efforts to build on our consumer reputation and strong relationships to maximise growth and supply high-quality and innovative products to our neighbouring island.

Bord Bia’s Brexit barometer has been used to identify evolving client priorities and concerns and further inform Bord Bia’s Brexit programmes and supports. As a result of the many findings from the two exercises it carried out in 2017 and 2018, Bord Bia has launched a series of Brexit support programmes focused on supply chains and customs requirements regarding trade and currency risk for the industry, as well as a customer engagement plan to communicate to key UK stakeholders the preparedness of Irish food and drinks suppliers.

In September 2017, I announced further funding of €6.745 million for Bord Bia to undertake a programme of additional activities, based on Brexit barometer analysis, to support the food and drink sectors in addressing the market challenges relating to Brexit. The funding was additional to the €1.6 million I provided to Bord Bia in autumn 2016 for grants to assist food companies highly dependent on the UK market and an additional €2 million allocated to Bord Bia as part of its 2017 grant for increased expenditure on programmes. In the 2019 Estimates, I provided a further allocation of €5.3 million to Bord Bia, bringing its total grant-in-aid to €46.6 million for 2019. This compares with a grant of €28.9 million in 2014 and represents a 60% increase in funding for marketing and promotion of our food offering over five years.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This year Bord Bia received approval to recruit 32 additional members of staff as part of the wider Brexit response. A recruitment campaign commenced in April 2018, and to date 24 positions have been filled. Recruitment is ongoing for the balance and it is hoped that these additional staff will be fully in place by 2019. At least ten of these positions will be based abroad. This will bring Bord Bia’s headcount from 93 in 2008 to a maximum of 147 by the end of December 2018, amounting to a 63% increase over ten years.

There is no doubt that a 60% increase in funding shows the level of importance we are placing on the food and drink industry, which, as the Minister noted, accounts for 11% of our total exports from the country, which is important. Is the Minister satisfied we can maintain many of those UK contracts and suppliers? It is encouraging to hear he will meet key stakeholders in London this evening. Is he satisfied we can retain them or does Brexit pose the risk that some of our agribusiness will lose some of those markets?

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has rolled out new embassies and representations all around the world. Does Bord Bia link in with it and take every opportunity through trade delegations and so on to try to open up those markets?

When Food Wise 2025 was drawn up, we were not familiar with the word "Brexit". Does the strategy remain fit for purpose in the context of Brexit or are changes needed to bring us in line with modern realities?

On the final question, it has never been more important to have a blueprint for the industry. Food Wise 2025 was intended to be an identification of the major roadblocks that were holding back the industry's capacity to meet its true potential, whether in the area of research and development, human capital or whatever. The programme has been rebuilt every number of years, and we are beginning the process of examining its next iteration and the challenges of the future. While Brexit is one challenge, the international trading environment, sustainability and so on are also challenges. Food Wise 2025 is a living document and it will be reappraised, but it has never been more relevant to identify the challenges and systematically dismantle them in a focused way.

The UK market will always be of great importance for us, and geography should always be a major determiner of where we trade. It is the biggest market on our doorstep and it is the one we understand most for cultural and historical reasons. Although the future trading relationship will be different when the UK is a third country, that is, outside the European Union, and we will have costs that we do not now incur, it should nonetheless always remain our major trading partner. It accounts for somewhat less than 40% of exports now, but I hope the hard-won space that we have on British supermarket shelves can be maintained, which is partly why we regularly engage with our retail partners, as I said I will do later. I recently returned from a trade mission in Indonesia. New embassies are important and Bord Bia is part of that global footprint.

In an international context, will the Minister expand on the importance of Origin Green and how it fits in with the trade delegations to which he is party? In the overall narrative of the quality of our industry, what role does the programme play?

Origin Green is of significant importance because in the higher value-added markets where we want to have space on the supermarket shelves, our food suppliers are increasingly asked less about whether their food is safe, traceable, nutritious and so on but rather about antimicrobial resistance, animal welfare, climate sustainability and so forth. That is where Origin Green has come into its own. I had a meeting yesterday with the board and sub-boards of Bord Bia to be given an overview of how 2018 went. One of the points I made to them was that it was imperative that we constantly work to ensure that Origin Green, which has been a real door-opener for us, is fit for purpose and constantly proofed against the challenges of changing market dynamics, of which Bord Bia is acutely conscious. It has been important to what market penetration we have globally.