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Minister Creed's Closing Remarks to the Food Wise Conference 4 December 2017

Food Wise Conference 2017

Closing remarks by Minister Creed

3pm

 

Thank you Áine.

It is my task to conclude proceedings today.

I want to thank all of you for your participation today, and for your understanding of the inevitable changes to the agenda in the light of urgent events.

Importance to the economy

The economy is a good place to start. The agri-food sector is our largest indigenous sector. It is vital that we recognise the role that our industry has played in the economic recovery and continued growth.

The sector creates valuable jobs in rural communities the length and breadth of the country.  More than  173,000 people and their families rely on it for their livelihoods.  And we have a multinational sector,  with a global footprint and reputation , built on the efforts of these rural communities.

We owe it to those communities, to build a sector that is there for the long term. It must be resilient in the face of economic shocks, and it must be sustainable, economically, environmentally and socially.

We in Government are seized with that challenge.

Now, we are facing some uncertain times, but I think the need to have a coherent, shared vision for the sector has never been more important.

That is why we decided to associate three key words - Challenge, Ambition and Opportunity- with the Food Wise strategy,  for today’s deliberations. 

Global Markets

This morning you got a good insight into global market developments.  There are a number of take away messages. Firstly, we live in a volatile world, whether it be global economic growth, energy prices, input prices, or even world food prices.

Nonetheless the outlook remains largely  positive, with continuing increases in global population and urbanisation driving demand for food and agricultural output, particularly in emerging economies.

Of course, that growth is by no means linear. It is  punctuated by geo-political uncertainties, weather events, competitive pressures  and other risks. On the other hand, there are also significant opportunities for growing and developing existing and new markets.  Availing of such opportunities requires a deep understanding of individual market segments.

With this in mind, the market prioritisation exercise, commissioned by my Department, and carried out by Bord Bia, will focus our global marketing efforts. We will of course continue to liaise closely with industry on trade matters, because they are the people who actually have to do business in the targeted markets.

Within my Department, we will continue to sharpen our focus on market access matters. Additional resources are being provided, to work with industry and to deepen our relationship with competent authorities in countries with which we are seeking to do business. 

The focus here must be on obtaining absolute clarity on the requirements of the importing country, and ensuring that we, as regulators, and food business operators, are in a position to meet those requirements.

Consumers and state authorities in third country markets must have confidence in our food safety systems if we want to export our products. There can be no compromise on food safety. We will continue to work hard to ensure such confidence is fully justified. 

I can announce today that I will lead at least four trade missions over the next year, starting with a trade mission to the US and Canada in the first quarter of 2018. The EU has recently concluded a significant trade deal with Canada, and there are strong trading and cultural links to build on in that market. The US of course is our second most important export market, with exports of over €1 billion last year.

My Department is working with Bord Bia to finalise the other elements of next year’s mission schedule, and I expect to be in a position to announce this very soon. Our efforts will be deeply informed by the detailed market prioritisation exercise that we have undertaken.

Brexit

As you are probably aware from developments today, we are now at a critical juncture in phase I of the negotiations.

On the trade side of the Brexit negotiations, our political objective is crystal clear. We want to maintain a trading relationship with the UK that is as close as possible to the current arrangements, and to avoid the imposition of any border on the Island of Ireland. For the agri-food sector it will be particularly important to avoid any customs, tariff or regulatory barriers to trade.

In the meantime, and bearing in mind the more immediate and very real impact of sterling devaluation, we are working hard, with our agencies, to help industry to prepare. 

Budget 2018 included a €50 million package for Brexit responses.

We will keep our responses to Brexit under review as matters progress and of course we will maintain close contact with industry throughout the process.

Perhaps understandably, there have been calls in some quarters for a moderation of the Food Wise ambition in the light of Brexit.   I am certain that such a step would send all the wrong signals. Indeed, to an extent it could be self-fulfilling.

We have set and achieved ambitious targets before now. Our Food Harvest 2020 targets for primary production and value added have been achieved four years ahead of schedule, and they too appeared optimistic at the time.

We should therefore continue to work towards the vision of sustainable growth set out in Food Wise, while taking account of the new realities. Of course, we must recognise the challenges, including the very real environmental challenges, and take positive steps to deal with them.

CAP Reform

We also heard from Commissioner Hogan on the future direction of the Common Agricultural Policy following the publication of the Commission’s communication just last week. This is inextricably linked to the achievement of our Food Wise ambition.

We are all still digesting the details, but I believe that the new CAP may offer potential in terms of the increased flexibility to design and implement our own policies that are tailored to our own needs and priorities.  Of course, to do all of this it must be adequately and fully funded.

To do this it must help us to protect farm incomes, attract young talent into the sector, drive innovation and technology adoption and make a real difference when it comes to meeting our environmental and climate change targets.

With all of this in mind, I want to launch a public consultation in Ireland on the future shape of the CAP, taking account of the broad parameters laid down by the Commission in its communication. 

I want your views on how we can configure a future CAP to meet the development and sustainability objectives of Food Wise.

My department will be following up on this early in the New Year.  I hope that you will all engage with this important exercise.

 

Environmental sustainability

This brings me on to the issue of environmental sustainability, which has been discussed in detail today.

When it comes to the environment, we are lucky in Ireland that Mother Nature has been generous to us. But we must not underestimate the challenge of reconciling our growth ambition with the protection of the environment, whether it be climate, water, or biodiversity related.  

This challenge was well recognised during the Food Wise process. The strategy was informed by a detailed environmental impact analysis, and driven by a strong focus on sustainability. The Food Wise Environmental Sustainability Committee which I have established will have a vital role in monitoring and responding to, any impacts on the environment arising from the expansion of the agri-food sector.

My Department and its agencies are fully aware of these challenges.  Working with farmers and others, we are doing a huge amount to address them. Bottom up local schemes such as the Burren Programme, are complemented by large national schemes such as GLAS, and more targeted measures such as the Beef Data and Genomics and afforestation programmes.

The full range of initiatives under the Rural Development Programme are worth almost €4 billion over 7 years.

Allied to all of this is the Origin Green programme, which ensures that environmental sustainability is prioritised by our food companies and built in to our market offering.  

I believe therefore that we have done more than any other sector in this space – certainly in terms of public policy - and we are building on this all the time.

Just last week, along with my colleague, Minister Eoghan Murphy, I announced the establishment and joint funding of a new collaboration between Government and industry. This will see the roll out of a Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme involving 30 advisors.

But be clear about this! We cannot allow any negative association between the agri-food sector and the environment to get traction. Any such association would be corrosive and damaging to the development of the sector.

This means we have to do two things.  Firstly, we have to do more to articulate the tremendous contribution farmers are already making to the management and improvement of the natural environment, and the efforts of industry through Origin Green.

Secondly, we have to ask ourselves, honestly, how we can do more, and configure public policy to help with that effort.

Government has a leading role to play in the area of environmental sustainability for our sector, but we all have our part to play. Policy demands it. Our customers demand it. Society demands it. And it is the right thing to do.

To this end, I will ask the Environmental Sustainability Committee to engage with industry and other stakeholders on the identification and implementation of policy interventions, to ensure our environmental obligations are delivered, and to report back to me on its findings. 

Food Wise – impact in a new era

There were a number of other themes that emerged in the course of today’s discussions. I will touch on them very briefly.

We need to improve competitiveness at every level of the sector. This will require knowledge transfer, technology adoption and investment.   

Labour and skills shortages, perhaps a sign of our economic recovery and strong job creation record, were also identified as a key concern for several sectors. The emphasis in the Food Wise process on human capital – the need to attract, retain and develop the best people to the sector – was far-seeing in that regard.

Research and innovation are key to future growth. My own Department has invested some €124 million over the last five years through its competitive research programmes, allied to another €50m that Teagasc devotes to its research work. Our focus should not be on output alone, but on value, and margin. Research and innovation is the key to unlocking this.

Government support is important, but Industry also needs to prioritise R&D investment and I think a significant step-up is required here.

Conclusion

So, in wrapping up, I want to strongly restate our collective determination to achieve the growth and sustainability ambitions in Food Wise 2025. Our ambition is to deliver jobs for our people, maximise the incomes of our farmers, and protect and enhance our rural environment.

We all recognise the huge task involved in this. But we also see enormous opportunity on UK, European and global markets. We intend to pursue those opportunities relentlessly.

We have no intention of stepping back from the UK market. On the contrary, we will redouble our efforts to build on our consumer reputation and strong relationships on our neighbouring island.

Of course, we recognise the potential pitfalls of Brexit – but we know where we want the current negotiations to go and we are determined to get there.  And we will work together to manage the commercial impacts of uncertainty and volatility during the negotiation phase.

We have a proud record on environmental sustainability in our agri-food production systems. But we recognise that we must do much more to meet our national emission targets, and to ensure that our dairy expansion does not compromise water quality or biodiversity.

We must be clear and unequivocal about this commitment to sustainability. And we must ensure that the actions we take have real and verifiable impact and deliver maximum value for private and public investment.

All of this calls on all of us in the sector – farmers, processors and Government – to redouble our efforts to deliver on all aspects of  the Food Wise Strategy. 

To ensure that this happens I intend to lead a step up in the work of the Food Wise High Level Implementation Committee.

The Committee includes key decision makers from 5 Government Departments and 5 State agencies. It has the ability to deliver on the joined-up Government implied in the single simple logo behind me – Rialtas Na hEireann. And I intend to ensure that it does so.

On the basis of today’s deliberations, I will now initiate a programme of meetings of the Committee with key stakeholder groups to determine how we can all reinforce the Food Wise strategy, through real and practical actions.

Food Wise 2025 is a living strategy which can and must react and adapt to developments both inside and outside our sector. It should respond to changing circumstances while remaining loyal to the core vision and objectives of the plan itself.

Thanks

Before I conclude, I want to express a sincere thanks to you all for coming here today and participating in this conference, particularly our excellent speakers, panellists and our moderator.

When I decided to host this event some months ago, I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to take stock of where we started from, where we are today, and where we are headed in the future.

I think it has usefully served that purpose and has also been a fantastic occasion for a real exchange of sometimes challenging views, but with the firm objective of maximising the sustainable growth of this sector.

“Ní neart go cur le chéile” [there is no strength without unity] is an expression I am fond of, and I am pleased to see that it has now been adopted at European level!

I know that this shared commitment is one of our sector’s unique strengths.

Thank you very much.