Thursday, 8 December 2005
Department of Agriculture and Food
World Trade Negotiations
Question 26: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to ensure that the EU Commission does not exceed its mandate at the WTO talks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37687/05]
Question 59: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action she has taken or proposes to take to prevent the severe impact on rural areas arising from the proposals being considered by the World Trade Organisation relating to farmers' income; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36941/05]
Question 88: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the world trade talks will result in more cheap food imports from non-EU countries; the implications for agriculture here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38455/05]
Question 90: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on setting a precise date by which developed country members of the WTO will provide bound duty free and quota free market access for all products originating from all least-developed country members of the WTO; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38382/05]
Question 101: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to ensure that the EU Commission does not exceed its mandate on agricultural supports at the WTO talks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37711/05]
Question 181: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food the way in which she expects to retain Ireland's position as a food producing country in view of recent discussions at EU levels and discussions pending at WTO; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38632/05]
Question 182: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food the other sectors in the food industry, along with the sugar sector, which are likely to be determinately affected by EU and WTO policy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38633/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 24, 26, 30, 37, 48, 59, 88, 90, 101, 181 and 182 together.
The Government is committed to achieving a balanced outcome between the various elements of the WTO negotiations. In so far as agriculture is concerned, the outcome of the negotiations will determine the levels of protection and support which the EU may provide for the duration of the next agreement. The negotiations represent, therefore, a serious challenge to the future of the Common Agriculture Policy, CAP. My over-riding objective is to ensure that the terms of the final agreement can be accommodated without the need for further reform of the CAP. More specifically, my priorities are to ensure that: the phasing out of all forms of export subsidies, including export credits, will be applied in parallel as provided for under the WTO framework agreement which was concluded in August 2004, that the phasing-out arrangements will be as flexible as possible and that the end-date will extend as long as possible; Ireland's agricultural exports will remain competitive in the EU market through the continuation of adequate levels of tariff protection on imports from third countries. My aim is to secure the best combination of tariff cuts and the 'sensitive product' status, to which lower tariff cuts will apply, for the products of particular interest to Ireland, especially milk and beef products; the EU's system of direct payments which, following decoupling, qualify as non trade-distorting, will continue to be exempt from reductions under the new agreement; and direct payments make a major contribution to farm incomes in Ireland and I will strongly resist any attempt to amend the qualifying criteria to undermine their status as non-trade-distorting payments under a new agreement.
The Commission negotiates in the WTO on the basis of a mandate which was agreed by the Council of Ministers. The mandate is designed to defend the CAP as it has evolved under successive reforms, including Agenda 2000 and the mid-term review. Together with a number of my EU ministerial colleagues, I have been very active in demanding that the Commission remains within its mandate and makes no further concessions on agriculture. At a meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18 October 2005 which I attended, the Council again endorsed the mandate and confirmed that it constitutes the limits for the EU's negotiating brief in the WTO. The Commission maintains that the latest EU offer which was made on 28 October fully respects the negotiating mandate. I have some reservations in this regard, particularly in relation to domestic support and market access issues. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that the efforts of my colleagues and I have ensured that no further concessions have been made by the Commission and that the opposition of member states to further concessions has been conveyed in very clear terms to the negotiating partners. I believe, however, that the Commission has reached the limit of its room to manoeuvre and I recognise that extreme vigilance is needed to protect our interests as the negotiations proceed.
I have been in regular contact with the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development in recent months. I discussed the WTO agriculture negotiations and Irish concerns in relation thereto at a bilateral meeting with the Commissioner on 23 June 2005. The Council of Agriculture Ministers, which reviews the situation on a regular basis, discussed the developments in the negotiations at its meetings on 18 July 2005, 19 September 2005, 25 October and 22 November 2005, all of which I attended with Ministers from other member states and the Commissioner. On each occasion I outlined my concerns that the Commission should continue to adhere to the mandate on agriculture which was given to it by the Council and that it should not deviate from this as the negotiations proceed.
In November, I also travelled to Geneva for a meeting with Pascal Lamy, the Director General of the WTO, at which I took the opportunity of making it very clear to him where Ireland's concerns lie in relation to the agri-food sector.
From the development perspective the EU is aiming for a very ambitious outcome to the current negotiations. I have fully supported and will continue to support the EU proposals in this regard which include a commitment to special and differential treatment for developing countries in the form of lower reduction commitments and longer implementation periods, immediate duty free and quota free access to developed country markets for all products from least developed countries as provided for already by the EU through the Everything But Arms initiative and a comprehensive aid for trade package including a broad financial envelope which compensates for possible loss of preferences by least developed countries.
It is now likely that the negotiations in Hong Kong will be a further step in progress towards a decision rather than a final agreement. I will be attending these negotiations and I will be taking a very active role in pursuing an outcome which is the most beneficial for Irish agriculture.