The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Simon Coveney has today (Friday) called on the EU Commission to take prompt action to address the difficulties caused by the Russian import restrictions on agri-food products.

Acknowledging the swift response to date, the Minister said “the measures put in place in the CAP reform package have equipped us with a valuable set of tools to deal with crises and emergencies. We need to keep all the available tools on the table and use them judiciously, effectively and promptly.”

The Minister said that the closure of the Russian market was a matter of significant concern for Irish producers. “Currently Ireland’s direct exports to Russia account for around 2.5% of our overall exports in the agri-food area. We had identified Russia as a major strategic market for Irish dairy produce in particular and had seen significant increases in all food and drink exports to Russia over the past four years. This action by Russia comes as a setback to our strategic plans”.

The Minister said that apart from the direct effect of the loss of the Russian market, the key issue was the displacement effect for European exports and the need to find alternative markets. “I am, of course, making strenuous efforts to source replacement markets” the Minister said, “but there is no doubt that the loss of a market as large as Russia will have knock-on effects for all EU producers and we need to monitor the situation closely and to take prompt and decisive action where appropriate. While the impact on some sectors is immediate, we must also be alert to the potential impact of a longer-term ban across all sectors including beef and pigmeat”.

Referring to the cost of these measures, the Minister said it would be reasonable to request, if not demand, that the additional expenditure needed to stabilise EU agriculture markets should be sourced from outside the EU agriculture budget. “The agri-food sector has been disproportionately affected by an EU decision based on foreign policy and security grounds. Without calling into question that policy decision, EU farmers should not be expected to bear the brunt of the consequences.”

As part of the response, the Minister called on the Commission to increase the advance payment to farmers, payable from October 16 next under the Direct Payments Scheme from the current 50%. “There are a number of other pressures on farmers in Ireland at present, including in the beef sector. The early issue of the Single Farm Payment would help to relieve some of the pressure on a number of fronts, in what has been a difficult year to date for Irish farmers.”