Tuesday, 28 May 2013
Horse Racing Industry Development
I welcome the Minister to the House. I wish to acknowledge the importance of Irish-Chinese trade, which is currently worth €8 billion per annum. I compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who led a trade delegation to China of 127 representatives of the agri-food and equine industries. China has a population of 1.3 billion and we have successfully established a partnership in equine excellence with China. An equine centre has been set up in Tianjin, the third largest city in the country, with a population of 12 million, at a cost of €2 billion to the Chinese authorities. We hope to export up to €40 million worth of animals and animal feed to China as a result of this over the next three years. Coolmore Stud in Tipperary has been set up as the partner for this equine centre, which is a very good news story. However, I wish to draw attention to the issue of the half-bred sports horse, three-day eventing and pony trade, which does not seem to be included as part of this Irish-Chinese initiative. I would like the Minister to provide some information as to the feasibility of examining this trade with China to determine if there is an opportunity for further exports and an opening up of trade in this area.
Currently there are 300 professional horse clubs in China, of which 16 are full-time professional clubs. These clubs currently use warm-blood horses mainly imported from the Netherlands which, incidentally, has quarantine rights for the entire world for export into China. There is an opportunity here for the Irish equine industry to open up trade with China and rebuild this particular industry nationally. In the past five years, as the Minister knows, this industry has taken a severe hammering. Prices have dropped by over 100% in some cases. Generally speaking, the people in this industry are mainstream farmers who keep a number of horses, brood mares and so forth for breeding purposes. This helps them to increase their incomes on an annual basis but in recent times this trade has completely collapsed. The Connemara pony trade has also collapsed, as has the three-day eventing trade. There is an opportunity here and I ask the Minister to respond to my request that funding for a feasibility study be made available, either through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or through Leader companies. I look forward to the Minister's response.
I thank Senator Landy for raising this issue, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney. The equine industry in Ireland is comprised of two elements, the thoroughbred sector and the sport horse sector. Horse Racing Ireland is responsible for the development of the thoroughbred sector, while Horse Sport Ireland is responsible for the sport horse sector. The horse racing and breeding sector, as Senator Landy has said, contributes enormously to the Irish economy. It is estimated that in excess of 17,350 people are employed directly in the industry in Ireland, mostly in rural areas. The industry generated exports worth €174 million in 2012 and 7,500 thoroughbred foals were registered that year. The industry is dispersed throughout the country with breeders located in every county. It is interesting to note that 83% of thoroughbred breeders own only one or two mares.
Horse Racing Ireland is a State body established under the Horse and Greyhound Act of 2001 which represents key sectors of the thoroughbred industry. It is responsible for the overall administration, promotion and development of the industry. Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, ITM, is a division of Horse Racing Ireland, funded by that body and by the Irish bloodstock industry. It is responsible for the promotion of the thoroughbred horse and provides support to overseas visitors who are interested in the racing and breeding industry. ITM has representatives overseas, including one based in China.
Regarding the sport horse industry, it is estimated that there are 124,000 sport horses in the country, with 13,477 non-thoroughbred foals registered last year. These would include Irish sport horses, Irish draught horses and Connemara ponies, together with other breeds. There are an estimated 30,000 non-thoroughbred brood mares in the country, which 50% of mare owners having one or two mares. A report entitled, "Economic Contribution of the Sport Horse Industry to the Irish Economy 2012", concluded the contribution of the Irish sport horse industry to the economy to be in the region of €708 million per annum, employing 12,512 full-time equivalents, with an estimated 47,096 people involved in the sport horse sector. The report estimated that approximately 6,600 sport horses were exported in 2011 to the value of €26.1 million. Horse Sport Ireland is responsible for devising and implementing strategies for the development and promotion of an internationally competitive Irish sport horse industry. Horse Sport Ireland is developing new marketing strategies and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has, in this regard, approved funding to assist Horse Sport Ireland in developing a website, the Irish Horse Gateway, which is commissioned as a platform primarily for the sale of Irish sport horses and ponies in other countries, including China. The website will allow the promotion of the Irish horse and pony internationally and build on our worldwide reputation for excellence. The Irish Horse Gateway aims to increase buyer confidence in the Irish market through the addition of a quality programme for sellers.
In 2012 the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine provided €45 million to Horse Racing Ireland and €1.8 million to Sport Horse Ireland. The Department is making every effort to assist enterprises in both the thoroughbred and sport horse sectors to access overseas markets, including China. Together with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is engaged in ongoing contact with the Chinese authorities, which is aimed at concluding an agreement on animal health certification which would underpin the direct export of horses from Ireland to China. Since May 2011, Irish horses being exported to China have had to undergo a 30-day quarantine period in the Netherlands. In the interim, an animal health protocol has been agreed between the Department and the Chinese authorities. The protocol was signed on 15 June last by the Minister, Deputy Coveney and the Vice Minister of the general administration of quality supervision, inspection and quarantine of the People's Republic of China. The protocol covers quarantine and health requirements for horses that are born and raised in Ireland to be exported to China and is the basis for the veterinary animal health certification, the text of which the Department is seeking to conclude with its Chinese counterparts. An agreed animal health certificate will facilitate the direct export of Irish horses to China.
I welcome the response from the Minister and am glad that some progress is being made. However, I would ask the Minister, in the context of his responsibility for LEADER funding, to be open to the suggestion that some of this can be done at a local level. A massive opportunity exists and we must examine the feasibility of direct trade with China for the sport horse sector. I ask the Minister to be open to the idea because it could create employment and sustain existing employment.
As has been said already, generally the people involved in this industry keep one or two mares as part of an add-on to their overall income. I thank the Minister for his reply.