As the Deputy will be aware, in accordance with competition law, neither I nor my Department have any role in determining market prices for any commodity, nor can I intervene in this particular process.
The Irish dairy market, following on from broader EU and international trends, is currently in a much improved position compared to the relatively recent past during the period 2014 - 2016. Of course, my Department remains extremely vigilant in monitoring the current market and emerging trends, particularly as we approach the peak period for Irish milk production.
The average milk price paid to Irish dairy farmers in 2018 was 34 cent per litre, which was higher than the average price paid across the EU of 33 cent per litre. More recently, the milk price in Ireland has been higher than 33 cent per litre during the early months of 2019.
In 2018, Ireland exported dairy products to approximately 140 countries totalling over €4.5 billion worth of produce, an increase of over 5% by volume compared to 2017.
My Department, in conjunction with other stakeholders, including the Irish dairy companies and agencies such as Bord Bia, are playing a key role in building the market for Irish dairy with intensive Ministerial trade mission programmes and other promotional activities. I will lead a trade mission to China next week, including a significant focus on dairy.
While the overall dairy sector is now in a much better place, particularly at the farm gate, the issue of intervention stocks of skimmed milk powder overhanging that particular market was a cause for concern in recent years, arising from the significant recourse to this market measure for skimmed milk powder across the EU from September 2015. However, figures from the European Commission show that there are now only approximately 1,000 tonnes of SMP remaining in public intervention stock, with over 370,000 tonnes having been sold out of intervention since March 2018.
I have clearly stated previously, at Council of Ministers meetings and elsewhere, that it is imperative that the Commission remains vigilant in monitoring the market and that it has contingencies in place in the event of market volatility re-emerging in relevant markets, particularly the raw milk, butter and skimmed milk powder markets.
Whilst challenges have continued throughout recent years, in particular price volatility, the long-term fundamentals of the global dairy market are strong, and the Irish dairy sector is well placed to gain from the opportunity presented by expanding global demand.