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Minister Smith Meets the Commission and Presidency on Ongoing Negotiations in the CAP Health Check

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith TD, had a private meeting this morning with Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel and with the President of the Agriculture Council, Michel Barnier, to discuss the main Irish priorities arising in the CAP Health Check. This "trilateral meeting" took place in the context of a meeting of the Council of Agriculture Minister's in Luxembourg. Speaking after the meeting, the Minister said: "I had a very productive and constructive meeting at which I made known my key concerns regarding milk quotas and additional modulation."

The Minister said that he had sought an increase in available EU funding for special sectoral measures to assist farmers. "Many countries, including Ireland, cannot currently fully utilise the funding allocated for the single farm payment scheme because of the complex and restrictive rules governing the scheme. I am therefore seeking greater national discretion in the use of these funds. If agreed, this would effectively release these unspent funds and provide additional money for necessary measures to assist farmers."

Minister Smith said he had worked closely with a number of other Ministers in support of this proposal, and at the meeting today he pressed the Commissioner to accept it. "The Commissioner responded somewhat cautiously but she agreed to consider the idea,"said Minister Smith. No final decision will be made until the next meeting of Agriculture Ministers in November.

The Minister also set out his key priorities for the milk sector, stressing the need for a genuine 'soft landing', when milk quotas come to an end, accompanied by a predictable set of steps that would allow farmers and industry to plan for the future. Emphasising the need for progressive quota increases, he made a specific request that additional quota allocations for Ireland be front-loaded given our capacity to progressively increase production. In this regard Minister Smith called on the Commissioner to make adjustments to the butterfat calculations in order to facilitate the release of higher levels of quota in 2009. The Commissioner, for her part, responded positively to this request. "I was very pleased with the response I received to a butterfat adjustment and I see this as a possible avenue to increased milk production."

Minister Smith made clear his view that the retention of private storage aid and intervention for butter are critical market mechanisms supporting Ireland's seasonal pattern of production. "These tools are essential for market stability in the quota phase-out period and I made it clear that they should retain their essential characteristics." Predictability is a prerequisite of the planned changes and the minister said that the objective of the review in 2011 should be focussed on achieving a smooth run into the post quota period.

As to the proposed increase in modulation, the Minister said: "I made very clear to the Commissioner my opposition to the substantial increase proposed." While the Commissioner continued to insist that an increase was necessary, she did confirm that any funds raised would be retained by Irish farmers.

"I will continue to press these issues with the Commission over the coming weeks and I am confident that we will have a successful conclusion to the Health Check review over the coming weeks," Minister Smith said.

Date Released: 28 October 2008