Deputy Pat Breen: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I agree with the Minister of State that beef prices are down and a number of issues are at play. This is not only a problem for Irish farmers; farmers are also experiencing reduced prices in the UK. I have met representatives of farming organisations in my constituency and they are rightly concerned, as we all are, about this. I was a little amused
that Deputy Ó Cuív criticised the Government last night when the approach he advocated last year in the context of CAP reform was to move everyone to a flat rate of greening payment. This would have been detrimental to many of our most productive beef farmers.
The beef industry is important to the economy, with 56% of our 140,000 farms engaged in beef production. They
produce more than six times what is required for domestic consumption and, therefore, it is important to have strong export markets to ensure increased prices for our producers. There is increasing frustration among beef farmers at the prices being offered by meat factories. The Minister, through the beef forum, is working with processors and producers in an effort to improve the position of farmers. However, the best way to guarantee a better price for them is to open new markets for beef products, given that we export 80% of what we produce.
In my capacity as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, I have witnessed the work of our embassies, Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, in reopening markets in Japan, Singapore and Egypt. I expect more markets to open later this year, including Lebanon and Namibia. The Minister is in the US this week and he is having a successful visit. I hope the US and Canadian beef markets can be opened shortly as well. I visited the Middle East last month and I met the Minister for Industry and Commerce in Bahrain. We discussed the reopening of beef markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council states. The six countries involved work as a bloc and I understand talks are at an advanced stage with them. The Department is working closely with their veterinary officials to ensure difficulties can be overcome and beef exports can resume. These states are importing beef from
Australia and New Zealand and it would be much more convenient for them if they could import from Ireland. I am confident that these markets will open sooner rather than later.
Having a strong live export market is the best way to ensure stable beef prices for farmers, and that is the Minister’s priority. Last year, the value of live exports increased by 11% to €240 million and, as a result, markets in Libya and North Africa have reopened, which is positive. I commend the Minister on his work on behalf of beef farmers. The Minister of State is a farmer and understands the current position, as he is constantly in touch with farmers. Instead of working against the Government, the Opposition should work with us in the interests of Irish farmers.