Dáil Éireann - Volume 638 - 03 October, 2007

Other Questions. - Common Agricultural Policy.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the degree to which she has evaluated the negative impact to date of CAP reform on the industry; her expectations in respect of WTO; if her attention has been drawn to the concerns of the food producing sectors at national and European level and the increased dependence on food imports from outside Europe; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21526/07]

  Deputy Mary Coughlan: I do not accept that the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy has had a negative impact on the industry. On the contrary, I believe that there are and will be major benefits for producers and consumers arising out of the ongoing implementation of the reformed CAP and the wide range of measures envisaged under the national development plan.

As part of the 2003 reforms of the common agricultural policy, the introduction of the full decoupling of direct payments under the single payment scheme ensures that farmers now have the freedom to farm and that the CAP will be geared towards the demands of the market and consumers. The single payment scheme is linked to food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards. Irish farmers will receive single farm payments of €1.3 billion in 2007, while consumers will be guaranteed a supply of safe food, produced to high animal welfare and environmental standards, at reasonable cost.

[1450] Producers and consumers will also benefit from the wide range of measures provided for under the national development plan, which includes the rural development programme which was approved by the Commission in July. Total funding of €8.7 billion is provided for the agri-food sector over the period 2007 to 2013. The objectives are to improve competitiveness at farm level, promote environmental protection, develop the food processing industry and fund research and development.

My main concern in respect of the 2003 Common Agricultural Policy reform is to ensure a period of stability to allow farmers to implement the changes necessitated by decoupling and to adapt to the market needs in a stable policy environment. The 2003 CAP reform is still being implemented and further major policy change should not be contemplated at this stage.

It is in this context that the ongoing WTO negotiations represent a significant challenge. The outcome of the negotiations will determine the levels of protection and support that the EU may provide for the duration of the next agreement.

My objective in the ongoing negotiations to complete the round is to ensure that the terms of the agreement can be accommodated within the framework of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy. This represents the limit of the European Commission’s negotiating mandate in these negotiations and I will continue to insist that this mandate is respected. I have consistently outlined my position in the clearest possible terms at the Council of Agriculture Ministers. I will continue to work closely with like-minded Ministers in other member states to seek support for my position. I am determined that any WTO agreement must be balanced and must not be concluded at the expense of EU and Irish agriculture.

For the future, the question of food security may indeed be an issue. It is worth noting, however, that the EU is by far the largest player on the world market and while imports of certain commodities into the Community may have increased, Ireland will remain a significant net exporter.

  Deputy Seymour Crawford: Does the Minister realise many farmers are completely disoriented and leaving the business? I came across a beef farmer last week who had fattened 300 cattle. He is now in New Zealand for the winter because he realises there is no point. Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy has damaged the industry. Does the Minister not accept that point?

  Deputy Mary Coughlan: I do not accept it. We can deal with the negative when it comes to farming and agriculture but agriculture is still the bedrock of this country.

  Deputy Noel J. Coonan: The Minister will soon have more Greens than farmers.

[1451]   Deputy Mary Coughlan: That is an inappropriate remark.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister should ignore comments that are not in order.

  Deputy Mary Coughlan: Look at the dairy industry. Last year, Deputy Crawford was roaring at me that it had been decimated and people were leaving in their droves. What is the situation now?

  Deputy Seymour Crawford: The Minister’s actions did not help Lakeland Dairies.

  Deputy Mary Coughlan: I reformed the quota allocation system and now there is an invigorated industry that wants to drive on. That is what we should do instead of putting agriculture down.

  Deputy Seymour Crawford: What about the mushroom industry?

  Deputy Mary Coughlan: That is not to say there will not be difficulties but I have invested a huge amount in the national development plan to drive the industry forward and prepare it for the next reform, giving it the necessary tools to compete.

  Deputy Seymour Crawford: What is the Minister doing with Mr. Mandelson?

  Deputy Mary Coughlan: Beating him around the head.

  Deputy Seán Sherlock: I take the view that the glass is half full but there is a trend in Irish agriculture of flight from the land. This is largely due to global trends.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sure the Deputy is about to ask a question.

  Deputy Seán Sherlock: The WTO is influenced mainly by global corporations and that has an effect on small Irish family farms. Will the Minister bear that in mind when she attends WTO talks or Council of Ministers’ meetings?

  Deputy Mary Coughlan: The Deputy should get a star for that.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Latitude is shown to all new Deputies.

  Deputy Mary Coughlan: The Deputy is right. I am concerned that we support the diversification that is taking place within the European Union, particularly here in Ireland, when it comes to discussions at WTO level. I have expressed and will continue to express grave concerns about the impact of an unbalanced agreement and have pursued this vigorously. The Deputy is right that an unbalanced agreement would have catas[1452] trophic implications for European agriculture and for Ireland. I agree with the Deputy’s views that we must have a balanced approach with reciprocity. Non-trade concerns must also be taken into consideration if we are to have an agreement.