March 5th, 2008 - abvadmin

Dail Contribution to Statements on the WTO Talks

5th March 2008

Deputy Pat Breen: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion on this motion, which was put forward by our agricultural spokespersons, Deputies Creed and Crawford. Since joining the EU in 1973 – or, as it was known then, the EEC – Ireland has benefited exceptionally well from its membership. Before that, our trade was dependent on our neighbour, the United Kingdom. Since joining the Union, we have opened up to new markets and trade. Irish food is some of the best produced in the EU. Over the period of our membership, we have received more from the EU than we have paid in, in the region of €55 billion. The EU has gone a long way to funding Irish life, particularly Irish farming.

As other speakers observed, the recent developments in the WTO talks are extremely worrying. The EU has given enough through the years. I am concerned at the scale and pace of the proposed reductions in domestic supports, especially in terms of the impact on the access to EU markets for agriculture and beef. We are all aware of the increase in imports from non-EU countries, particularly South America. Only last year, pig producers protested in Dublin at the amount of international pork products being sold here under an Irish label. We have given enough and must now protect what we have.

The Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Mandelson, who lost two Cabinet jobs in the British Government, seems to take no notice of the views of other member states. I urge the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to take a stronger stance on this issue. I make the same plea to the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy McGuinness, who is in the Chamber and who has represented Ireland at various meetings. I read recently that the French President, Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, has indicated his intention to oppose firmly any agreement that would sacrifice French and EU agricultural interests. The Taoiseach must take a stronger position on this issue. There are 130,000 farmers in the State but many will be forced to leave agriculture. Already the statistics show that only 15% of farmers are under 35 years of age.

In the context of the forthcoming referendum campaign on the Lisbon treaty, it is an unhelpful message to send out that Europe is not defending our cause at the WTO talks. This could influence the electorate and affect the outcome of the referendum. I urge the Taoiseach and his Ministers to be more vocal