Dáil Éireann - Volume 420 - 28 May, 1992

Written Answers. - Community Preferences.

[1093] 58. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action he will take in the EC to protect the principle of community preference, particularly in relation to imported low price cereal substitutes; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): Community preference is one of the basic principles upon which the market organisation mechanisms of the Common Agricultural Policy is founded. It protects European farmers against low-price imports and world market fluctuations by customs duties or levies at the Community's external borders.

There is no question of the Community abandoning this principle. The recently agreed Common Agricultural Policy reform package is designed to correct the market imbalances which have been so prevalent in recent years and to offset the consequential income losses by direct payment to farmers. It does not undermine the principle of Community preferences which will still be necessary to ensure that the Community plays a lead role in international trade. An eventual GATT agreement could involve adjustments to the Community's border protection system but the Commission has given an undertaking that it will ensure that Community preference is fully respected in the final result.

The position of cereal substitutes is that a number of such products can enter the Community at zero or low level of duties under arrangements agreed to in earlier multilateral negotiations in GATT. The Community, as I am, is concerned about the impact of these products on internal markets and is seeking to modify these arrangements in the current negotiations. In this regard, it has indicated that it could accept the conversion of the variable levy system into tariffs provided certain conditions are met, including the securing of effective protection against imports of cereal substitutes. This is an important point for several member States including Ireland. [1094] The proposal is, however, being strenuously resisted by other parties in the negotiations. Nevertheless, the Community remains committed to achieving this objective and it is one of several issues which it is pursuing with the other parties in the continuing GATT negotiations. In any event the measures agreed in respect of the cereals sector in the Common Agricultural Policy reform package will go a long way towards solving the problem of imports of low price cereal substitutes. The package provides for a substantive decrease in EC prices for cereals which will lead to increased competitiveness with cereal substitutes and a reduction in the imports of these products.

Ireland is a major exporter of agri-food produce and it is in our national interest to ensure that the principle of Community preference is safeguarded. While there is no threat to this principle, the House can be assured that I will do all in my power to ensure that this situation continues.