As the Deputy will be aware, as Minister for Agriculture, I have no role in determining the prices for sheep meat or any other commodity, nor can I directly intervene in the determination of prices. Equally, it is not my role to comment on commercial decisions take by private entities in an open market.
My Department provides the following supports to the sheep sector.
I introduced the Sheep Welfare Scheme in December 2016 in order to provide support for sheep farmers in improving welfare standards in the national sheep flock. Participating farmers are paid €10 per eligible ewe, and to date some €36m has issued to farmers in respect of the first two years of the Scheme.
In addition to supports which are available for sheep farmers under the Rural Development Programme, including GLAS, ANCs and Knowledge Transfer Groups, sheep farmers also benefit from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Greening payments under CAP Pillar I.
I have also made available financial support to sheep farmers for compliance with new sheep EID rules of €100 per farmer.
The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agri-food exports is a constant and central component of the strategic development of the industry, as evidenced by its placement at the centre of Food Wise 2025, the industry’s strategy for development. Food Wise 2025 prioritises the potential for growth in new and emerging markets, particularly in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Gulf region.
In May, during the China Trade mission, I met with the Vice Minister of General Administration of Customs in China (GACC) and his officials. Sheepmeat access was a key topic discussed at this meeting. I received confirmation that GACC is processing Ireland's sheepmeat application and a commitment that officials from GACC will visit Ireland on a sheepmeat audit.
In June, on the Japanese trade mission, I met both my counterpart, the Japanese Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), and with the Vice Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW). These Ministerial meetings followed detailed technical meetings involving senior officials from both Ministries. At the conclusion of these meetings, I was delighted to announce that we had reached agreement in principle on market access for Irish sheepmeat. Details will be finalised by an exchange of letters between my Department and the relevant Japanese officials
I am strongly of the view that the current range of supports available to farmers, together with ensuring market access to as many markets as possible are appropriate supports for the continued development of the sector.
I will continue to argue for as strong a CAP budget as possible, post-2020. In particular, I am committed to ensuring that sheep farmers continue to receive strong support in the next CAP. My view is that such payments should support and encourage farmers to make the best decisions possible to improve the economic and environmental efficiency, of their farming system.