Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Other Questions

International Agreements

3:00 pm

Photo of Áine CollinsÁine Collins (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Question 33: To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food if he has raised his concerns in relation to the trade negotiations with Mercosur countries with the EU Agriculture Commissioner and his EU Agriculture Minister colleagues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7707/11]

Photo of Áine CollinsÁine Collins (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Question 35: To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food if changes to the present milk superlevy regime are envisaged to allow Irish dairy farmers to prepare for the abolition of the milk quota in 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7753/11]

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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Question 45: To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food the position regarding the EU/Mercosur trade talks and the need to protect irish interests. [7694/11]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 33, 35 and 45 together.

These questions relate to the EU's negotiations with the Mercosur countries on a new bilateral trade deal. In case the House is not aware, this represents an extraordinary threat to the Irish beef industry because in essence what may happen is that the European beef sector would be sacrificed to allow European financial services and other product services to access South American markets, primarily Argentina and Brazil. We cannot allow this.

In my first Council meeting, which was last month, I made it very clear that it makes absolutely no sense for many reasons to allow for a very large quota of increased beef trade coming into the European Union to displace beef that is produced in countries such as Ireland. It makes no sense from a climate change perspective as we produce beef with the lowest carbon footprint in the world because we have a grass-based system while most of the beef produced in South America is from much more intensive system with a much higher methane footprint which is referred to as a carbon footprint. From a climate change point of view, it is totally contrary to what the European Union is trying to do.

From a food security point of view, it makes no sense because Ireland produces beef cattle at a standard that is matched nowhere else in the world as far as I am concerned from the point of view of animal husbandry, inputs and traceability. European consumers can rest assured when they purchase and eat Irish meat products. I cannot see any sense in the European Union simply replacing Irish meat. We export 80% of everything we produce. Most other beef industries feel threatened by Mercosur for domestic reasons but we export to other European countries.

We are in the process of a negotiation and countries such as Ireland need to do everything we can to help other countries understand the significance of the beef industry and beef exports to this country, certainly in the context of what we state in the Food Harvest 2020 document. We cannot allow a political deal to be done that will sacrifice our industry to allow European financial services, motor cars from Germany or whatever the industry may be to access markets in South America.

Another Council meeting will be held tomorrow; this issue is on the agenda and I will raise it. We have convinced the Commissioner that this represents a significant danger to the European beef sector but we must allow him also to get more support in the Commission for the concerns Ireland and a number of other countries have in this regard. I have met the Spanish Minister and the French Minister, Bruno Lemair, who have similar concerns to those of Ireland. We are in the process of building an alliance to try to prevent a potential catastrophe for the Irish beef sector should the wrong deal be signed with Mercosur countries. We will continue this political effort tomorrow.

Photo of Áine CollinsÁine Collins (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his detailed response and I congratulate him and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, on their recent appointments. I am a new Deputy from Cork North West where agriculture is one of the largest industries and I share the Minister's concerns particularly with regard to the beef industry as Ireland is one of the largest exporters in this industry in the northern hemisphere. What is Ireland's position on the decision to relaunch the EU Mercosur talks? Does the Minister believe any possible benefits exist for Ireland in these talks?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It is important to state our position should not be against any world trade deal as Ireland has many industries. Most of the growth in our economy comes from the export sector at present, and many of those exports are to world markets outside the European Union. We must be careful, therefore, in what we say about world trade. At the same time, we cannot allow an agreement to be reached between the European Union and any other collection of countries that sacrifices an industry of fundamental importance to the Irish economy such as the beef industry. We must ensure that the current round of talks that are ongoing between the European Union and the four South American countries concerned does not result in a deal that is contrary to Irish interests, particularly in the beef sector.

We have asked the European Commission to carry out an economic impact assessment of a new Mercosur deal before it is done, and I will remind it of that obligation tomorrow. We cannot strike a deal or make an offer in terms of beef quota access to the European Union from South America without having such an economic assessment in place, so everybody can understand the implications of a deal. We cannot sacrifice a sector, one that happens to be hugely important for Ireland, to allow other European business interests to access new markets. That is not the way the European Union should work.

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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In light of all that has been said about Food Harvest 2020 and food security within the EU, it beggars belief that it is even contemplating discussions in that regard in the Mercosur negotiations. I am delighted to hear the Minister's strong and unequivocal response to it. It is vital that every sector of Irish agriculture conveys the message to the European Commission that we cannot, under any circumstances, even issue one paragraph of discussion about it, because it will be of huge consequence. The Minister is to attend the Council of Ministers meeting tomorrow. Is it a priority issue on the agenda or is it an issue for later? I urge the Minister to convey the concerns of Irish agriculture as he has outlined them because this is destabilising for people in the sector. We are trying to encourage people into the beef industry and to reach the targets in Food Harvest 2020 and it is destabilising for them that there is another round of negotiations countenanced by the European Commission in these trade talks.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It is an "any other business" item tomorrow. That is the only way to get a specific issue such as this on the agenda. My understanding is that the Presidency establishes the agenda for Council of Ministers meetings. If one wishes to include something extra on the agenda, on which Ireland has insisted on this occasion, the way to do so is to have it considered as an "any other business" item, as it will be tomorrow. That does not mean it is not important. It was raised in the same way last month by the Dutch, and I spoke on the Dutch motion. The Deputy need not worry as I will raise our concerns in no uncertain terms.