Eddie, Jer, IFA: how good is your Mandarin?

Today will see the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) elect a new President. And could I, at this stage, wish Eddie and Jer equal good fortune as the day progresses. Both, in my opinion, have fought admirable campaigns.

However, the reality is that whoever comes up Number One in the voters’ minds, that person will have a more than interesting term in office to look forward to.

AgriLand was fortunate enough to interview both candidates on more than one occasion over the past number of weeks. But one question we forgot to ask them was: how good is your Mandarin?

The relevance of this query reflects my growing belief that China –most probably in tandem with India – will dominate global food trade patterns over the next number of years. In fact, many will argue, that such developments are already taking place, given the tremendous impact that Chinese trade is now having on New Zealand’s food industry.

Back some 30 years ago, the IFA committed to establishing an office in Brussels so as to ensure that the voices of Irish farmers were heard at the very top table of European affairs. And, if one gives any credence to the argument that China looks set to rule the world of agri and food affairs then the obvious fall-out from all of this is for the IFA to have a proactive presence in Beijing.

No doubt, some readers of this piece will be immediately thinking that the food companies and the Department of Foreign Affairs are well capable of meeting this need. Wrong! Such an approach, in my opinion, would send out all the wrong signals to China. I say this because numerous Chinese delegations have visited Ireland over the past couple of years, all stressing their desire to know more about our farming systems.

The reality is that the Chinese Government and the country’s food retailers do not trust their own farmers to deliver on the quality and traceability standards that consumers in that part of the world are demanding. So what better organisation to tell the Chinese hierarchy about the good news story that is Irish farming than the IFA.

Chinese business analysts will always make the point that good business and diplomatic relation always go hand-in-hand when it comes to dealing with China. Surely, this is another reason for the IFA to look there as it plans for the future!

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