Dáil Éireann - Volume 651 - 08 April, 2008

Written Answers. - Common Agricultural Policy.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the extent to which she has had discussions with her EU colleagues in the context of the World Trade Organisation with a view to formulating an EU consensus in line with EU principals of self-sufficiency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13270/08]

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she has examined the implications for EU and Irish food producers in the event of a continuation of the position adopted by Mr. Mandelson during the CAP reform in the course of the World Trade Organisation talks; her proposal to address this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13271/08]

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps she has taken or proposes to take to ensure that Irish beef, lamb and pigmeat exports can compete on European or world markets currently and in the future in the aftermath of the World Trade Organisation talks; the steps required to adequately meet such competition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13272/08]

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the extent to which she has engaged in discussions with the independent food producing interests other than those influenced by multinational corporations within the EU and throughout the world with particular reference to the World Trade Organisation discussions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13276/08]

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she has studied the Mandelson document produced by the Irish Farmers Association in connection with the World Trade Organisation discussions; the extent to which she has sought support from her EU colleagues to ensure that this country and other food producers within the EU are not sacrificed on world markets thus leaving Europe vulnerable in terms of food sufficiency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13280/08]

  Deputy Mary Coughlan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 310 to 312, inclusive, 316 and 320 together.

The negotiations on the next WTO Round have entered another intensive phase as efforts continue to reach a full and final agreement by the end of 2008. There is no doubt that the outcome of these negotiations will represent a significant challenge for EU and Irish agriculture.

The 2003 Reform of the CAP was undertaken with this Round of WTO negotiations clearly in mind. The move to non-trade distorting decoupled payments has allowed the EU make significant commitments in these negotiations in relation to reductions in the trade distorting supports such as market and price supports. The 2003 CAP Reforms also represent the limit of the EU Commission’s negotiating position in these negotiations. This negotiating position [473] has been approved by the EU Council of Ministers and has been reiterated on several occasions by the Council. Any WTO agreement which would result in a further reform of the CAP would exceed this negotiating position and would be unacceptable.

I will continue to insist that the Commission respects this negotiating position in these discussions. The Common Agricultural Policy remains a cornerstone of the EU and the principles on which this policy is based are even more valid given the dynamics of the current global economy. My priorities in these negotiations are to ensure that Irish agricultural products remain competitive on EU and world markets. This can be achieved by securing appropriate levels of import protection for the EU market and ensuring that there is full parallel elimination of all forms of export subsidies used by other exporting countries such as state trading enterprises, food aid and export credits.

These negotiations are ongoing and there are a number of significant issues which remain unresolved. It would therefore be difficult at this point to analyse the overall impact on the Irish economy. The Commission has however recently provided some details of its assessment of the impact of the proposals made last February by the Chairman of the WTO Agriculture Committee. This analysis is currently the subject of discussion between Member States and the Commission. In addition some independent assessments are likely to emerge in the near future. In these circumstances I think it better, from both a technical and negotiating standpoint, to await further clarification from the Commission and input from other sources before drawing detailed conclusions on the likely impact of a possible trade deal, the details of which are not yet known.

As I have indicated repeatedly I am concerned with the current direction of the negotiations. The latest paper issued by the Chair of the Agriculture Committee includes a number of proposals which could have serious consequences for EU agriculture, and in particular EU beef production. I and my Government colleagues have and will continue to take every opportunity to express these concerns in the strongest terms in the various EU and WTO meetings dealing with these negotiations.

I, and my Department, have consistently and continuously outlined the Irish position in the clearest possible terms at official and political level including numerous bilateral meetings with the Commission and other EU Member States. I have developed and maintained valuable contacts with like-minded Member States on this issue. I have and will continue to play a leading role in the Group of 14 plus like minded Member States who have come together to express concerns in relation to the direction of the WTO agriculture negotiations. This group has now grown to 20 Member States. Of course, each Member State has its own particular concerns, however I believe broad alliances such as this are crucial in an EU of 27 Member States. I will continue to work closely with like-minded Ministers in other Member States to seek support for my position.

I have also consulted continuously and widely with all the main stakeholders in relation to the ongoing negotiations. The WTO Consultative Committee was established specifically for the purpose of providing advice and guidance to me on these negotiations. It is comprised of representatives of all of the main Irish producer and agri-food industry interests as well as independent experts. It meets on a regular basis, most recently in late February and is scheduled to meet again shortly.

The Government will continue to insist that the final WTO agreement must be a balanced one. It will not be acceptable to me or the Government that EU agriculture carries a disproportionate burden or is sacrificed for the sake of a deal. The EU has made significant contributions to these negotiations including the move in the 2003 CAP Reforms to non-trade distorting decoupled payments. These Reforms have allowed the EU to commit to very significant [474] reductions in the levels of trade distorting supports in particular in relation to production linked price supports. It is now the responsibility of other WTO negotiating partners to make equivalent contributions. I will continue to insist that the Commission pursues balance in the negotiations. The EU, and in particular EU agriculture cannot be the banker for this WTO Round.