The American author Mark Twain once advised an audience to “invest in land……. because they’re not making any more of it”.
We in Ireland as members of, initially the European Economic Community and latterly the European Union have paid heed to that advice. One of the principle reasons for the establishment of the EEC in the early 1950’s was to make sure that Europe having suffered two catastrophic wars in the preceding fifty years could always guarantee its citizens a food supply.
Since then we have advanced Agriculture. We have improved land and its productivity. We have introduced quality and absolute traceability in our European food products. We have taken the issue of animal welfare seriously. In short we have established a system that everyone, both consumer and participant can have confidence in.
This has taken some time to achieve and it would be fair to say that there is no other region in the world that has paid this type of detailed attention to its Agricultural Economic sector. It would now seem apparent that our EU Trade negotiator, Mr. Peter Mandelson is prepared to throw all of this away without receiving any concessions on other matters on behalf of the European Union. Mr. Mandelson is following an historical British obsession with cheap food. The UK can no longer feed itself and this mode of thinking was fine when you had an Empire behind you. We now live in a different world.
Negotiations show us that in the World Trade Talks, Agriculture is at an advanced state of Conclusion, NAMA (Non Agricultural Market Access) at a limited Progress state and absolutely no Progress for Services and Trade rules. The Ammendment to this Private Members Motion notes that the Government is seeking an outcome to these WTO negotiations that is balanced across all of the negotiating sectors. If that is the case Minister I would say to you that it is time to wake up !, Agriculture faces conclusion with little or no progress on other Trade sectors, are we to be part of a negotiating team that offers everything and gains little ?
Our food industry is the largest Irish-owned manufacturing sector, accounting for over 50% of exports from Irish owned manufacturing. Ireland’s food and drink exports were worth €8.6bn in 2007, representing 17% of Ireland’s net export earnings. Farming, the food industry and the service industries depending on agriculture provide 300,000 jobs, which is 25% of all jobs outside the greater Dublin area. This WTO deal as it currently presents itself threatens these exports and 50,000 jobs in rural Ireland.
As this House knows, The Trade Commissioner negotiates on behalf of the EU on the basis of a mandate agreed by the Council of Ministers.
Essentially this mandate is based on protecting the European model of agriculture, with the family farm structure being the cornerstone. This has and should continue to form a basis for sustainable development reflecting the multifunctional nature of agriculture and the part it plays in our economy and the environment.
Former Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischer assured Irish farmers in 2003 that they would have to make no more concessions following the reform of the CAP. This was in essence how we in the European Union prepared for this round of World Trade talks and yet we find ourselves today having gone beyond that position with no obvious direction from the Council of Ministers.
The idea of transporting food around the world for consumption in Europe and the impact this transportation has on the Environment should be of interest to Minister Gormley. Beef from Brazil, Lamb from New Zealand, Grain from South America and Chicken from Asia would indicate that we will exacerbate the already serious issue of Climate Change which is so dear to his heart.
Environmentally the example of Brazil is worth noting. Between May 2000 and August 2006, Brazil lost nearly 150,000 square kilometres of forest—an area larger than Greece—and since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. This has not been led by conventional farmers in the European sense, rather large ranchers and speculators.
You Minister must not fall into the trap of thinking that protection of the Single Farm Payment will suffice and keep people happy at this time. This is not at issue here. This is not a time for presentation and mealy mouthed responses. You have previously not acknowledged the seriousness of the deficiencies of Brazilian beef and at this time both you and the Taoiseach need to send out a strong and unequivocal signal from the Council of Ministers that this deal in its current state is just not on.
Mark Twain was wise in his advice. We in Europe have invested so much to get where we are. Our systems are perfect for the future, systems that protect both our Environment, People and a safe Food Supply. It is critical that the Government Act now and Act decisively to protect our Agricultural Economy.