Tuesday, 15 February 2022
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
962. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of full-time equivalent staff within the unfair trading practices unit in his Department by grade; the number of cases it has handled; the non-salary and remuneration expenditure incurred; the purpose and amount thereof; the salary and remuneration expenditure that has arisen; the expenditure that has arisen specifically regarding the marketing or educating of producer on their rights arising from the unfair trading practices; the number of cases that have been raised and status or determination thereof by month since its establishment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8043/22]
As the Deputy will be aware, one of the key principles of the Directive on Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) in business-to-business relationships in the agricultural and food supply chain is to protect farmers, farmers’ organisations and other weaker suppliers of agricultural and food products against stronger buyers and to, therefore, improve their position in the supply chain.
I signed Statutory Instrument No. 198 of 2021 which transposed the UTP Directive into Irish law on 28th April 2021 and established the UTP Regulations. These Regulations are an important tool in strengthening the position of primary producers.
The Regulations provided for the establishment of an Enforcement Authority to deal with complaints of unfair trading practices and, as an interim measure, the Authority was established in the Department pending the finalisation of primary legislation to establish a new Office of National Food Ombudsman or equivalent. The Authority is staffed on a full-time basis by a Principal Officer, an Assistant Principal Officer and a Higher Executive Officer.
To date, the figure for salary-related expenditure for the three staff is approximately €115,000. Non-salary expenditure for the authority to-date is €28,839 which relates to the provision of consultancy services in the initial stages of the establishment of the Authority by Christine Tacon, ex-Groceries Code Adjudicator in the UK, attendance at a food services trade fair and the provision of resource materials which are available online and are used by the Authority during its engagements with stakeholders.
Currently, only supply agreements established since 28th April 2021 are required to be in compliance with the provisions of the Regulations. However, from 28th April 2022, all supply agreements, including those that were in place before 28th April 2021, must be in compliance with the Regulations. A targeted communications plan is being developed to ensure that suppliers are aware of their rights and buyers are aware of their obligations.
No complaints have yet been received and the Authority has not initiated any investigations at this stage. I can assure the Deputy that the Enforcement Authority has been proactively engaging with relevant stakeholders and in a variety of initiatives to promote awareness on suppliers rights and buyers obligations under the UTP Regulations, including meetings with the largest buyers of agricultural and food products in the State.
I strongly encourage any supplier to contact the Authority if they feel they have been subjected to any of the unfair trading practices covered in the Regulations. They can be absolutely assured that all contact with the Authority will be handled in strict confidence.