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Smith discusses WTO and CAP Health Check with EU colleagues

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr Brendan Smith TD, said today that he found great concern among European Ministers for Agriculture about the current WTO negotiations. Minister Smith was speaking after attending a two-day meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Slovenia. Minister Smith said "There was strong support among my colleagues for the Irish concerns about the lack of balance in the current negotiations and the need to protect European agriculture".

The Minister said he would continue to build alliances with like-minded Member States to secure an outcome to the WTO agreement that did not damage European agriculture and would protect Irish agricultural interests.

The Minister also queried the wisdom of pressing for an agreement in the light of the political uncertainties in the US. "The progress of the Farm Bill in the US Congress does not suggest that there is any appetite in Washington for a balanced deal" the Minister said.

"We also have concerns that new market realities and emerging food security issues are being ignored in the rush towards an agreement. We must carefully consider the future role of our agri-food sector in a much more turbulent world market. We must ensure that it can provide a secure supply of high quality food for future generations."

The Ministers had a first political discussion on the CAP Health Check proposals which were formally presented to the Council by Commissioner Fischer Boel. Minister Smith outlined Ireland's priorities in these negotiations. "One of Ireland's key priorities is that the Health check should deliver real simplification that has concrete benefits at farm level. It is very important that the Commission takes on board Member States' proposals in this regard."

The Minister called on the Commission to come forward with higher increases in milk quotas that those contained in the proposals. "We need a higher level of increase to allow our farmers to take full advantage of the opportunities posed by the increase in world demand - we should not leave this opportunity to others. If it does not prove possible to agree a higher general increase, we will have to look at a differentiated approach as between Member States."

In relation to the proposed increase in modulation (i.e. transfers of funds from the single farm payment to rural development) the Minister confirmed that any funds raised in this way would remain in Ireland and could be allocated to agriculture schemes and therefore Irish farmers would not lose from the proposals. "However I continue to believe that it would be more appropriate to leave funds with those to whom it was committed in the Single Farm Payment and that is the case I put forward".

As to the future of the CAP, Minister Smith emphasised the need for a strong and effective CAP to support a vigorous, consumer-focused agricultural production base in Europe. "At the same time, we must recognise that the European Model of Agriculture is more valid than ever, in a world increasingly conscious of the need for the sustainable use of resources and the value of the public goods produced by our farmers."

Date Released: 28 May 2008