Dáil Éireann - Volume 686 - 30 June, 2009

Priority Questions. - Common Agricultural Policy.

Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his plans with regard to the Common Agricultural Policy post 2013; the initiatives he will bring forward in order to sustain the agri-food sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26302/09]

  Deputy Trevor Sargent: Concrete proposals have yet to emerge on the shape of EU agriculture policy beyond 2013. Among the ideas emerging are demands from some member states for a lower budget share for agriculture and for eventual dismantling of CAP; demands from new member states for re-balancing of member states’ shares of agricultural funding; increased calls for changes to the single payment system to move from the historic model and to apply a “flatter” model of direct payments; calls for a greater focus on pillar 2, the rural development measures, and introduction of more specific selection criteria and indicators to measure the effectiveness, outputs and impacts of rural development programmes; and continuing pressures to reduce supply and market management mechanisms with a greater reliance on crisis management.

The Minister’s, Deputy Smith’s view, which he has expressed at meetings of the Council and bilaterally to his ministerial colleagues, is that we must maintain a strong agricultural production base in the European Union in the future to take account of the challenges ahead in [266] meeting increased demands for locally produced food. Any reduction in food production in the EU would be taken up elsewhere where less efficient production systems exist and would result in a heavier carbon footprint. We must also undertake food production and distribution in a manner that is sustainable in all its dimensions — economically, socially and environmentally, especially with limited energy supplies in mind.

There will be major challenges ahead from climate change, increased competition on world and EU markets, the financial crunch and other factors. We must ensure we have the capacity to cope with the challenges and fully exploit the opportunities as they emerge. To do so our whole sector, from farm to fork, must be highly efficient and competitive. It must also be innovative, producing the products that changing consumer tastes demand, and it must be relentlessly focused on quality and safety. To achieve these objectives, there is a continuing need for an active and appropriately resourced European agricultural policy. That policy needs to recognise the role that a cohesive agriculture and rural development policy can play in addressing future energy needs, addressing environmental concerns and providing a secure and sustainable food supply in Europe.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

With this is mind, and to meet all challenges to the sector in the coming decade, it is the Minister’s job to continue to plan to help the sector remain competitive so that it can capitalise on the inevitable global recovery and meet the challenges in the coming decade. Addressing the industry’s capacity to compete successfully at home and overseas has assumed a new urgency and the Minister’s belief is that a new development plan for the period to 2020 is required to maintain the impetus gained from the very successful agri-vision 2015 strategy. Preparatory work has already started on this plan which is focusing on the critical issue of competitiveness, the challenges from the global economic downturn, currency fluctuations, climate change and how best to maximise the opportunities arising from a growing international food and energy crop markets.

  Deputy Michael Creed: I thank the Minister for his reply and in many respects he ticks all the boxes regarding the concerns that face Ireland. Would the Minister accept that with the appointment of a new Commission shortly we are entering a critical phase? This debate will not be determined in 2013. In the interim period between now and then critical connections will be made at a European level and alliances and friendships forged that will deliver the kind of package that will best serve the Irish agri-food industry.

Would the Minister accept that food security and the family farm structure in Europe, as enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, are the two key pillars that will best serve the interests of Irish agriculture? When one factors in the more up-to-date concerns on climate change, etc., one has the makings of a very strong case to protect the incomes of Irish farmers in the post 2013 situation given that there will be legitimate concerns from the new accession states for a more equitable share-out. The Minister has the makings of a strong case to protect Irish farmers’ incomes after 2013 given that the new accession states will have legitimate concerns for a more equitable share out. We need to protect our interests which is best done by arguing for food security rather than outsourcing food production.

  Deputy Trevor Sargent: I could not disagree with what the Deputy is saying. The one thing we could say is that the family farm structure, which he mentioned, coming from the origins of the European Union and the Treaty of Rome, is more essential than ever, but probably for different reasons. It originally came about with the emphasis on affordable food and supply of food without the current issue facing us, which is how to pay for and where to get the inputs. [267] The energy challenge before 2013 will definitely sharpen the focus on food security, not just in transportation terms. One third of the fertiliser inputs are fossil fuel reliant, an issue which will impinge on agricultural policy as well as transportation from far distant sources. I agree it will be before 2013 that alliances will need to be forged and the shape of the post-CAP will be defined. It will be based on energy, which will be the foremost issue.