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Minister Coughlan meets with EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Fischer Boel to discuss key issues.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Mary Coughlan T.D., today met with Mariann Fischer Boel, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, in Dublin to discuss a range of key issues relevant to the agri food sector in Ireland. Minister Coughlan used the opportunity to seek the Commissioner's support in resolving a number of areas of concern in an otherwise positive agri-food sector in Ireland.

The main areas of concern to the Minister were the difficulties being experienced by the pig sector at present, payments to farmers under the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) as well as upcoming discussions on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks.

Export Refunds for Pigmeat

Minister Coughlan asked the EU Commissioner to give favourable consideration to her proposal to seek a solution to the difficulties being faced by the pigmeat sector at present. The Minister said that while the re-introduction of export refunds last November by the EU Commission has helped to alleviate some of the problems in the sector, it is important that the refunds are maintained for as long as necessary. It is equally important that the refunds mechanism is used to the fullest extent possible in a strategic and targeted way.

REPS

Minister Coughlan said she had also taken the opportunity to raise with Commissioner Fischer Boel her concerns about the issues that had arisen surrounding the REPS scheme. The Minister welcomed the fact that the EU Commission services had responded quickly and sympathetically to initial enquiries by Department officials, but she was concerned that a definitive solution had not yet been found.

"I impressed on Commissioner Fischer Boel the need to ensure that a major farm based Scheme that was an acknowledged success in delivering major environmental benefits to society as a whole was not impeded in any way."

W.T.O. and CAP Health Check

The Minister and the Commissioner exchanged views on a wide range of issues concerning the current prospects for a W.T.O. deal and the ongoing debate on the health check of the CAP.

As regards W.T.O., Minister Coughlan repeated Ireland's desire for a successful outcome from this round of W.T.O. negotiations, however, this must not be at the expense of EU and Irish agriculture. The Minister said she was not prepared to accept an agreement that sacrifices Irish and EU agriculture or that undermines the viability of the CAP and the European Model of agriculture.

Minister Coughlan urged the Commissioner to use the opportunity presented by the Health Check to focus on operational simplification. She said she would have preferred to have more specific and practical commitments to simplification in the Communication, but was pleased that the Commission was open to consider the suggestions that have already been submitted by Ireland.

Simplification aside, the Minister said she was pleased to see that a major reform of the CAP is not envisaged at this time.

"Our main aim is to continue the process of simplification to reduce the administrative burdens on farmers in a genuine and practical manner that will have tangible benefits at farm level."

Minister Coughlan underlined her support for the Rural Development Pillar but she said she saw no merit in supporting rural development at the expense of direct payments made under the Single Payment Scheme.

Date Released: 30 January 2008