17 November 2016
By Bryan T. Smyth
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed T.D. today chaired the ninth meeting of the Beef Forum. The meeting was the second chaired by Minister Creed and delivers on a commitment in the Programme for Government to continue with the Forum as a vehicle for positive engagement between stakeholders in this critically important sector.
Commenting on today’s meeting, the Minister said: “I am acutely aware of the difficulties faced by all sectors of the Irish agri-food industry currently as a result of developments internationally. The Beef forum is a critically important vehicle for engagement between the stakeholders in the sector, including processors, marts, farm bodies and relevant state agencies. It is more relevant than ever now as we face the challenges, particularly the uncertainty brought about by the UK decision to exit the EU.
The Minister updated the Forum on the actions that Government and his Department are undertaking in response to Brexit, including a number of measures in Budget 2017. These included an increase in the allocation of spending under the Rural Development Programme for 2017, an adjustment to the farmers income averaging system, increased PRSI benefits for the self-employed, an increase in farmer’s flat-rate VAT addition as well as an increase in funding for Bord Bia to deal specifically with Brexit issues, impacting on companies currently trading in the UK.
In relation to the UK market specifically the Minister informed the Forum of his direct engagement with key players in the UK retail market over the last week. Commenting on these the Minister said “I have recently met with two of the major retailers in the UK who sell Irish beef and stressed to them the fact that Ireland is very much open for business and that we wish to continue our excellent working and trading relationship with the UK, which is our main export market for Irish beef. Irish beef enjoys a key position on UK supermarket shelves and I have emphasised strongly to them that we are not about to concede this hard-won shelf space.
The Forum received a presentation from Bord Bia on the market outlook for 2017 and from his Department on the outcomes of the Minister’s trade missions to Asia and Africa in the last two months. Commenting on the importance on ensuring as many markets as possible are open for both Irish beef and livestock the Minister said: “One of my priorities now, particularly in the context of Brexit, is to further increase the market opportunity for Irish food and drink internationally. We are after all an exporting nation with 90% of our food produce leaving the island. It is for this reason I led a major trade mission to four Asian Countries in September during which beef market access featured as a high priority and a further one to Algeria and Morocco at the start of this month. Live exports were particularly prominent in this latter mission. Increasing our footprint internationally we will help to mitigate the effects of Brexit and develop our agri-food sector to realise its full potential. We have some clear priorities for 2017 which we are determined to deliver for the sector”.
The Forum also received presentations from Meat Industry Ireland and the IFA. Minister Creed sees this as a positive development for the Forum and one which will continue into the future. In relation to this addition to the Forum, the Minister said: “I have taken on board the wishes of the stakeholders for active participation and engagement. Those stakeholders who did not present formally to the Forum today will be provided an opportunity to do so at the next and future meetings of the Forum.”
The Minister stressed both the benefit to the sector in having a strategy such as Food Wise 2025 already in place and also the importance of continuing to deliver the actions laid out for the sector in the strategy: “When FoodWise 2025 was originally launched, no one could have foreseen Brexit and its impact on the Agri-Food sector. The importance of having in place a long-term strategy for the development of the Agri-food sector in place is all the more important against the background of Brexit. It is important whilst we keep the measures and actions for the sector in FoodWise under review we do not allow the ambition for the Agri-Food industry to be undermined.
The Minister also announced the appointment of Michael Dowling as chairperson of the Meat Sector Subgroup of the Food Wise 2025 High Level Implementation Group the establishment of which he announced at the last Forum: “This subgroup will help to drive the implementation of the 75 meat actions in Food Wise 2025 and I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Michael Dowling as Chairperson of this group. This group will meet regularly and report on its progress to the HLIC. This is an important step in ensuring that the overall meat sector in this country can reach its full potential as outlined in Food Wise 2025”.
The Forum also received an update from Nick Ashmore of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) on the operation of the Agri Cash flow Support loan fund of €150 million announced in the budget. Commenting on this fund, the Minister said: “Since taking up office, one of my priorities has been to address the impact on farmers of the sustained period of lower commodity prices. I am conscious that this has caused cash flow difficulties for farmers in several sectors and I am committed to working with all the stakeholders, both at national and EU level, to address the issues involved and ensure that we continue to have a sustainable and resilient sector”.
Concluding the Minister said “Given the current challenges facing the sector it is important that the Forum continues to bring together all stakeholders in an environment which allows for constructive engagement. It will continue to have a vital role to play in assisting the sector to deal with the challenges and opportunities which face it.”