Varadkar addresses farmers’ fears over climate action’s effect on livelihoods

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said to farmers: “I know many of you are worried about the future and are fearful of what impact the climate actions we are taking will have on your livelihoods.”

Speaking at the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) annual general meeting (AGM), the Fine Gael party leader told the IFA delegates: “Stopping climate change will take a global effort.”

Taoiseach Varadkar acknowledged: “The agri-food sector has become more climate efficient in recent years, but we need to do more. Our young people demand it, our planet demands it, our future depends on it.

However, if we show imagination, I believe there are also major opportunities for the sector.

“Think of our greatest strength. Our agri-food sector stands for excellence, innovation and resilience.

“Your commitment to sustainability and ‘best-in-class’ environmental practices will help to grow employment and farm incomes in the years ahead.”

The Taoiseach described the current Irish food-export market to 180 countries worldwide as “an incredible tribute” to Irish farmers’ work, and said it “shows the international reputation of what we produce”.

Last year, the value of agri-food exports exceeded €14 billion for the first time in our history, and shows how we benefit from the diversification into new markets.

He continued: “Notable successes, such as beef access to China, have made a big difference and we will continue to prioritise the development of new markets in the years ahead.”

Mercosur

Commenting on the challenges, the Taoiseach outlined: “This also brings challenges. Take the EU-Mercosur political agreement of last June, which was the result of 20 years of negotiations.

“We all know the potential impact this agreement could have on our agriculture sector, particularly the beef sector.

We have set out those concerns at the highest levels and we have been listened to; the commission has said it will provide €1 billion in funding to assist farmers in the event of severe market disturbance.

“Following the announcement of the agreement, I ordered the development of an ‘Economic and Sustainability Impact Assessment for Ireland’.

The Taoiseach told IFA members: “You have my word that we will spare no effort to ensure that Ireland’s interests are prioritised and the agriculture sector is protected.

“The proposed agreement also binds Mercosur countries to the climate action commitments they have made in the Paris Agreement, and this gives the EU the ability to monitor whether those commitments are being honored,” he explained.

The beef sector

Commenting on the beef sector, Taoiseach Varadkar said: “I know it’s tough for those of you in the beef sector.”

He explained that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, “has been fighting to get you a better deal and greater investment”. He outlined that “investment has been substantial” in these areas:
  • €300 million in a Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) to encourage greater efficiencies and productivity;
  • €20 million in a Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP);
  • €85 million in targeted schemes to support sustainable beef farming;
  • €100 million in the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) to those most affected by disturbances in the market.

“Thanks to last year’s series of talks, we also reached an agreement on a way forward for the sector.

“We now have a Beef Market Taskforce so we can implement the commitments entered into. This taskforce has begun its work and while it can’t determine prices; it will engage strategically with stakeholders, including retailers and regulatory authorities. I believe it will make a difference,” the Taoiseach said.

CAP

The Fine Gael leader continued: “We have been working with other member states to protect the CAP budget as we work on a new Multiannual Financial framework, and we are currently at a critical stage.

“As a Government we will use the connections and relationships we have built up in recent years, particularly through the Brexit negotiations, to negotiate a reform of the CAP that ensures the best possible outcome for Irish farmers.”

Brexit

Taoiseach Varadkar outlined: “Yesterday, I met with Michel Barnier [the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator] and we discussed what needs to be done next when it comes to Brexit.

I reminded him that our farmers are the most vulnerable part of Irish society if we do not negotiate a good trade deal in the next phase of Brexit.

“We discussed the dangers and we also discussed our plans to find a solution – and I am confident we will.

“As we negotiate a future trading relationship, we will look for one without tariffs and without quotas that will protect Irish exports to the UK.”

Concluding, the Taoiseach outlined: “The Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, and our Brexit team will ensure that the protection of agriculture, food and fisheries is front and centre when it comes to agreeing a final deal.

“So my message today is to keep fighting for farming. The government will fight alongside you because the agri-food industry is the beating heart of our country and you are the lifeblood.”

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