Dáil Éireann - Volume 630 - 06 February, 2007

Written Answers. - Dairy Sector.

Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agri[1715] culture and Food the discussions she has had at EU level to protect dairy supports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3582/07]

Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to support dairy incomes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3572/07]

  Mary Coughlan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 155 and 169 together.

Despite the challenges brought about by the further implementation of the Mid Term Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, 2006 turned out to be a successful year for the dairy sector. Exports increased in value to €2.08 billion, a rise of 4% compared with 2005. This rise in value was due to strong returns particularly for protein on the internal market. Prices on international markets were operating 5% lower than in 2005. However, since November 2006, international market prices have surged, particularly for protein, with world prices 30% higher than this time last year.

At EU level, I have consistently challenged the pace and level of reduction in support level implemented by the Commission. In my view it is crucially and strategically important that the EU consolidates its international market share while challenging competition on its domestic market. I have urged the Commission to maintain a competitive combination of aids and subsidies to achieve these objectives.

The key to meeting the challenges ahead is being adaptable to changes in the environment in which our dairy sector operates. The outcome of the current WTO Doha Round of negotiations will have a significant impact on our export orientated dairy sector. I will continue to fight for the best possible outcome in the WTO Negotiations; in the meantime, we must continue to develop the quality and competitiveness of our dairy product offering.

Last September, I established a €300 million investment package for the dairy sector. The investment fund includes €100 million of Government grant assistance. The purpose of this investment fund is to stimulate the development of the Irish processing sector and generate greater efficiencies. I am confident that the Irish Dairy Sector will avail of the opportunities presented by this investment package and thereby ensure the continued success and development of this important sector.