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Forum on future of Agri-Food Industry

Speaking today at the Agri-Vision 2015 Stakeholders Forum, attended by senior figures in the country's agriculture, food and drink industries the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan T.D., pointed to the future direction of the sector. "I believe that, if the correct policies are followed, Irish agriculture and the food and drink industries in 2015 will be an integral part of the knowledge-based economy. Primary agriculture will produce high-quality, pure, and traceable raw materials for a food-processing sector that is competitive on both domestic and export markets. Farming will also support other activities and sectors in shaping the rural community, and will, in turn, draw support from these other activities and sectors. Food processing will focus on high-value consumer markets and have strong marketing and innovation skills. Our vision for success, as articulated in the AV 2015 Action Plan, is therefore focused on the objective of ensuring that the Irish agri-food sector compares favourably to the best of our competitors especially on the EU market."

The Minister underlined that "as commercial subsidies will play a much-reduced role in the future, success or failure will be determined primarily by the skills and energy of private business of all sizes and at all levels in the sector."

The Minister said that she recognised that the drive for greater competitiveness will require real commitment, effort and investment by people in the industry. "The Government recognises that this will not be easy and is therefore determined to assist this process in real and practical ways involving the investment of taxpayers' funds and changes to long standing policies where that is required. This is a promise which we are already fulfilling. Huge resources have been provided to strengthen the competitiveness of the agri-food sector under the 2007-2013 NDP. Public funding for the sector in the NDP amounts to €8.6 billion."

The Minister pledged that her Department will facilitate all participants in the agri-food sector to respond to the change process by providing the necessary leadership and policy framework. "I want to assure you that you will not be passive bystanders. I want the fullest possible participation by all the key players in the sector in the process of delivering the optimal policy framework to support the sector."

The Minister also robustly rejected the arguments of those who say that food production is not important in a modern high-tech, industrial nation and that food can be imported at cheaper cost. "This is a facile and dangerous argument" stressing the enormous contribution of the sector to the economy throughout the country.

On the key current issue of the world trade negotiations, the Minister accepted that the EU should play a constructive role in the negotiations but emphasised she could not accept that the CAP should become a bargaining chip.

"In my view, the latest EU position is at the limit of the negotiating mandate and no further concession should be made on agriculture."

"I firmly believe, also, that the negotiations on non-trade concerns in the WTO should take account of the costs imposed on EU farmers in complying with food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection costs. Our competitors do not produce to the same standards and we cannot continue to surrender such a competitive advantage to them, especially on the EU market."

The Minister also restated her commitment to ensuring simplification of administration and procedures at both farm and industry level. "I am committed to negotiating significant changes in the context of the simplification exercise, currently underway in the Commission. It is my clearly held view that a number of practical amendments can be secured without in any way putting accountability in the disbursement of EU and national funds at risk." The Minister said that the same logic applied to the food industry adding that "the Government is fully committed to ensuring we implement the minimum, necessary level of regulation required, and that these rules were not an unnecessary burden to the industry, while fully protecting consumers."

23 March, 2007

Note for Editors

The Minister was speaking at a meeting of the Agri Vision 2015 Stakeholder's Forum in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. The Forum was meeting on the first anniversary of the publication of the Agri Vision 2015 Action Plan and received a report on progress to date on the 167 Actions in the Plan. The meeting was also addressed by three international speakers, coming from a variety of backgrounds, on key policy and other issues facing the agri-food sector over the coming years.

  • Professor Cees Veerman - former Dutch Minister for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality
  • Professor Robert Thompson - Chair in Agricultural Policy-University of Illinois, and member of the USDA-USTR Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee for Trade
  • Mr Jens Schaps from the Trade Directorate in the EU Commission who was deputising for Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

The meeting was chaired by Mr Ray MacSharry - former Tanaiste, Minister for Finance, Minister for Agriculture and EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Date Released: 23 March 2007