Opinion

Time for Irish agri-sector to rethink the role of EU institutions

Irish-based policy makers need to start pursuing more vigorously the trade opportunities emulating from the EU rather than just viewing Brussels as the place that will provide the cheque in the post.

The announcement that Irish MEP Sean Kelly will lead negotiations on behalf of the European Parliament in upcoming EU-Singapore Trade negotiations is yet again another example of the of how Irish leadership is held in high regard in Europe.

Over €74 billion of goods and services is traded between Singapore and EU countries annually. Any trade deal with Singapore will likely pave the way for an even bigger prize, namely trade agreements with other ASEAN countries.

ASEAN countries comprise of 10 south-east Asia economies with a combined population of over 600 million people. In 2013 these countries imported over €9 billion of meat and dairy products.

Ireland contains less that 1% of the EU’s total population, but has punched well above their weight in securing leadership roles that benefit the Irish agri-food sector.

Apart from the Kelly appointment, we have seen Phil Hogan appointed as EU Commissioner for Agriculture. Also, five members of the strategically important Agriculture Committee come from the island of Ireland, three Irish MEPs coming from the Republic of Ireland, together with two of the three Northern Ireland elected MEPs.

In recent weeks we have had the IFA call the Irish Dairy Board to “intensify their efforts to secure premium markets and fixed price contracts”.

Presently, China is Irelands fastest growing premium market, and the best outlet in which to secure such prized fixed price contracts. Yet, the IFA was one of the few, if not the only, major agri-food entity that did not partake in Minister Coveney’s recent Chinese trade mission.

At the same time, we see the ICMSA arguing for a ‘strategic volumetric supply mechanism for milk’ to be retained in Europe. It is hard to see how such a mechanism is not a means to re-introduce a quota by the backdoor on Irish milk farmers.

Where is the logic in controlling supply in Europe, when global milk supply has increase by about 200 billion litres globally to meet demand since the 1980s?

EU milk quotas will be abolished in less than 10  weeks from now. This should be sending a clear message to Irish dairy policy makers.

It says that we now live in a globalised market that requires a proactive rather than reactive approach to agri-food policy. Irish-based policy makers should be looking for the opportunities, rather than pointing out the obvious difficulties associated with global trade.

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