Thursday, 14 November 2013
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
2. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the health information Canadian beef and pork producers will be obliged to provide before their exports will be allowed onto the Irish market. [48506/13]
The Canada-European Union Free Trade Agreement, CETA, was welcomed by the Canadian establishment and particularly by the Canadian Prime Minister. It means the removal of all tariffs from much Canadian produce on the EU market. What will this mean for Irish industry, particularly farming? I recollect that when John Bryan was chairman of the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, livestock committee he fought tooth and nail against Brazilian imports and he fought that campaign mainly on health and safety grounds. Last year the second largest beef producer in Canada-----
Under the EU-Canada trade agreement initialled last month by President Barroso and the Canadian Prime Minister, Canada was awarded a tariff rate quota for beef of 50,000 tonnes carcase weight equivalent. This equates to a quota of 39,000 tonnes of boneless beef. The quota is split between fresh and chilled beef comprising 31,000 tonnes, plus the existing 4,000 tonnes quota as part of the hormones agreement, and frozen beef comprising 15,000 tonnes. As regards pigmeat, Canada was awarded a quota of 75,000 tonnes.
The agreement has yet to be endorsed by the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Moreover, certain matters, including details of the management of tariff rate quotas, have still to be finalised. However, under EU veterinary legislation the principle of equivalence will apply. This means that all imports of beef and pigmeat into the EU must be produced to standards equivalent to those applicable in the EU and in plants that are approved by the EU Commission. The regime is monitored by the EU Food and Veterinary Office.
There was concern about the EU-Canada agreement. Ireland has been very involved in this at a very high political level in the European Union. What Canada was seeking initially was a far higher beef quota access to the European Union that did not have the restrictions of chilled or fresh and frozen, so the deal that has been struck is much better than what was sought at the outset. It is also important to note that Canada does not have a beef industry of any scale that produces hormone free beef, which is the beef that will have to come into the European Union because of the restrictions in the Union. The assessment made by Teagasc is that Canada simply does not have the capacity to sell large volumes of hormone free beef into the European market and will not have it in the next three to four years. This might become an issue in terms of increased amounts of Canadian beef coming into the EU, but it will not happen immediately. Also, of course, we have opportunities in terms of significantly increased dairy access into the Canadian market from the European Union.
The deal could have been much worse and Ireland was very much involved in limiting the damage in that respect.
The Minister will be aware that the second largest beef producer in Canada, XL Foods Inc., had its operation closed down due to an E.coli outbreak. A $10 million court case was brought by people who became ill due to the outbreak. The plant owners have claimed that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's testing practices at the time were not stringent enough to protect consumers from the E.coli contamination. Can the Minister give an assurance that the same stringent regulations that apply to European produce will apply to Canadian produce?
Yes, in so far as I can, but I rely on the European Food Safety Authority at European level to do that. I doubt that we will not see Canadian beef coming into the Irish market, but Canadian beef might come into other markets in the European Union where we currently sell beef so it will undoubtedly be competition. However, I do not believe this will happen overnight, and there are increased opportunities for the European and Irish dairy industries to sell increased volume of product into Canada.
One of the other concerns about this is that it might set a precedent for the EU-US trade discussions on beef and, indeed, EU-Mercosur discussions on a bilateral trade agreement. We have made it very clear that what has been done with Canada was designed for the EU-Canadian relationship and should not be used as a precedent for other trade deals.
Again, this could have been a good deal worse. Canada sought far more access than what it got. While what we have now is of course a concern for the industry over the next five to ten years, it is manageable.
As the Minister said, the concern is that it opens the door and once the door is opened, where does it end? The concern for Irish producers is whether they can compete, given the traceability and stringent measures that are applicable here, with countries over which the EU has no control and which do not have a very good track record.
On the control issue, we will insist on veterinary equivalence. That means beef produced in Canada will have to be produced under the same conditions we have here. There will be limitations on hormone use and other practices regarding welfare and so forth and there will have to be an inspection scheme that reassures European consumers that this is the case.
This will apply to other parts of the world as well.
Clearly, the Irish beef industry can compete. The week before last, I returned from the Gulf states where we are starting to sell more beef again. There was a time when Ireland supplied Saudi Arabia with between 30% and 40% of its entire beef consumption. Ireland has proven its capacity to compete in the beef industry both outside and inside the EU because we provide a competitively priced, very high-quality premium product. In fact, Irish beef has improved down the years and we now have a better product than we have ever had. We can compete, but we need to monitor the situation closely.
There is access for Canadian beef already, but it is limited to approximately 4,000 tonnes of hormone-free beef. If the Canadians want to access the European market in a more significant way, they will need to build a hormone-free beef industry in Canada, which many people claim may never happen, given that it is a different type of beef production.