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Minister Creed's address at SeaFest Brexit debate, 28 June 2018

Seafest Fisheries Discussion on Brexit

28th June 2018 @ 9 am

Speaking Note for Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Mr Michael Creed, TD

Introduction

  • Thank you Cecil and good morning to everyone.
  • I would like to thank you all for coming here today for what I am sure will be an interesting and engaging discussion on Brexit and the Seafood Sector.
  • I am delighted to see such a strong turnout, which I think reflects the fact that we are still faced with a very large degree of uncertainty as to what exactly the future will hold.
  • It is now almost exactly two years since the UK referendum.  In nine months time the UK are due to formally leave the European Union. Obviously, there is much uncertainty remaining as to exactly what that will mean in practice and there has been much commentary about the fact that the UK Government itself remains unclear as to what exactly it wants.
  • This Governments position, and that of the EU27, has been clear and consistent from the beginning. We regret the choice our friends in the UK have made but fully respect it.
  • For the future, we want to have as close a relationship with the UK as possible across all sectors. For us, the high level negotiation priorities are clear - this is about our citizens, our economy, including of course the seafood sector, Northern Ireland, and the future of the EU itself. We are, and will remain, a strong and committed Member of the EU.
  • While we may remain unclear about aspects of the UK position, we can have no doubt as to the EU position and its support for Ireland.  This time last year I referred to the Irish seanfhocal or proverb -  Ní neart go chur le chéile” – “There is strength in unity”.
  • I was delighted to see President of the European Council, Donald Tusk use the same phrase during his visit to Ireland last year and just last week, Michel Barnier also used it during his visit to Dublin with Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker.
  • The truth of that seanfhocal is abundantly clear in the unwavering solidarity shown to Ireland by the all of our EU partners and is particularly true when it comes to fisheries. The unity of fishing Member States and the fishing industry in terms of protecting our common interests has been clear and unwavering.

Achievements

  • Over the past two years, I have had numerous bilateral meetings with my Ministerial fisheries colleagues across Europe - especially those from the Group of 8 Member States whose fisheries are most impacted by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
  • In all of those discussions it has been clear that we are in full agreement when it comes to our collective determination to ensure that our existing rights and entitlements are fully protected into the future.
  • My ongoing engagement with Michel Barnier and the Task Force, in close collaboration with the Tánaiste, a man with a deep understanding of the seafood sector, has continued. My officials are in regular contact with both the Task Force and the fisheries experts in DG Mare – represented here today by our good friend and colleague, Joost (Yoast) Paardekooper.
  • The results of this engagement are evident in the outcome of the negotiations which ensured that fisheries were protected in the texts of the transitional arrangements and the guidelines for the future relationship. I will come back to these in a moment.
  • It is important also to point out the sterling work being carried out by the European Fisheries Alliance to highlight fisheries concerns to national governments and the EU institutions.  This alliance embodies the spirit of the EU and is a perfect example of what can be gained by working with our European counterparts to achieve a shared goal.
  • The importance attached by this Government to fisheries and wider seafood sector was exemplified earlier this year when I organised a meeting between fishing industry representatives with An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, An Tánaiste, Simon Coveney and myself.  
  • The Taoiseach emphasised yet again that fisheries and the seafood sector are a key priority for this Government. Michel Barnier gave the same message on behalf of the EU27 when he met with industry last month.

Transition Period

  • In the early part of this year there were two significant developments in the negotiations with regard to the seafood sector. 
  • The first of these is with respect to what happens in the transition period envisaged in the Withdrawal agreement.  In overall terms, essentially the status quo will continue to apply other than the fact the UK will no longer participate in EU decision making bodies
  • For fisheries, this means that the CFP will continue to apply to the UK in every respect throughout the transition period. In other words, there can be no change whatsoever to the existing arrangements on access to fishing grounds or quota shares during the transition period.

Future relationship

  • This then raises a question that is dealt with in the second significant negotiation development.  What happens after the transition period?
  • The UK position today is that it will be an independent coastal state and will negotiate with the EU on access and quota share issues. 
  • As I have said already, Ireland wants the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK post Brexit. At the moment, the negotiation Guidelines for a future relationship envisage a Free Trade Agreement only.  In that overall context, the guidelines explicitly state, and I quote, “that reciprocal access to waters and resources should be maintained”.   
  • To put it plainly, the EU27 position is that any attempt to restrict access to fishing grounds or any unilateral moves on quotas detrimental to EU27 interests would jeopardise an agreement on a future relationship. 
  • To borrow a well worn phrase – the UK will not be able to have its cake and eat it. The EU27 have linked fisheries directly to agreement on the overall future relationship – not just trade in seafood products as some commentators seem to think.
  • This has been, and will continue to be, the consistent position of both industry and the Group of 8 Member States. It is therefore reassuring to see it set down unequivocally in the formal negotiating position of the EU27.

Preparedness

  • That’s the good news. However, I am not under any illusions about the complexity of Brexit.  Both the transition arrangements and the Guidelines for the future are subject to overall agreement between the EU27 and the UK.   This will require agreement of the legal text on the Withdrawal and a political statement about the future relationship. 
  • The European Council guidelines in March stated that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and that negotiations can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken so far are respected in full.
  • Based on the negotiations between the UK and the Commission Taskforce over the past few weeks, Mr Barnier will make an assessment of progress to the European Council, for consideration by the Taoiseach and his counterparts at their meeting today.
  • Everything, including all elements of the Withdrawal Agreement and the framework for the future relationship must be concluded by October. This is to allow sufficient time for the text to be considered by both the European and UK Parliaments.
  • Having regard for the slow rate of progress on many outstanding issues, and while it is an outcome that nobody wants; we have to allow for the possibility of no agreement.
  • The Government as a whole is continuing to prepare for all eventualities. We have already taken important steps to prepare our economy, including the Action Plan for Jobs 2018, our Trade and Investment Strategy and Project Ireland 2040.
  • In January, in conjunction with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I launched a Brexit Loan Scheme worth €300 million, 40% of which is guaranteed for food businesses.  This is another option available for small to medium seafood enterprises, alongside funding available under the EMFF, which can be used to mitigate the impacts of Brexit. 
  • There is also a €25m Brexit Response Loan Scheme for the agri-food sector and additional supports for capital investment in the food industry and Bord Bia marketing and promotion activities, all amounting to over €50m in total.
  • Just last week I launched the results of Bord Bia’s Brexit Barometer for 2018 which shows clearly the work that is being done across the sector by companies and small businesses to prepare and adapt for all possible outcomes.  .
  • BIM has also been working closely with individual businesses to assist them in their own preparatory work identifying knowledge gaps that need to be filled along with potential new markets that could be explored outside of the UK. The SFPA have been examining the potential regulatory impacts of the various Brexit scenarios on the seafood trade.
  • The second half of our morning will focus in more detail on these market and regulatory issues. 

Format/Organisation of Dialogue

  • To set a context for our discussions you will hear presentations by key voices from the European fisheries world– Pim Visser, President of the European Association of Fish Producers Organisations and Joost Paardekooper (pronounced ‘Yoast’) who leads on Brexit in DG Mare of the European Commission.
  • Following those we will have a panel discussion on the key recent developments and the current state of play with regard to Fisheries.   
  • I referred earlier to the seanfhocal or proverb -  ‘Ní neart go chur le chéile’ – ‘There is strength in unity’.  I would like to leave you with another appropriate bit of advice from our forebears – ‘Láimh foistenach abú’ – The steady hand to success. 
  • And with that thought in your minds, I will now hand you over to Joost for the first presentation.  

Conclusion

  • I think we can all agree that this was a very informative session which has highlighted a number of issues of ongoing concern regarding the potential effects of Brexit.  I am very grateful to our presenters and panel members who have provided complex information in a very clear way.
  • I would like to thank you all again for attending today, the high turnout for this event demonstrates the desire of the Industry to pull together in the effort to protect the Irish interest as we enter Brexit negotiations. 
  • I now look forward to our next session which will focus on the trade and market challenges arising from Brexit for the Irish seafood sector.