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Minister Smith meets French Minister Barnier on Europe Day

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr Brendan Smith T.D., met his French counterpart, Michel Barnier today, Europe Day, to discuss a range of major policy areas including the WTO negotiations, the CAP Health Check and the sheep sector.

Minister Barnier, a former EU Commissioner and currently France's Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries was in Dublin as part of France's pre-Presidency preparations as well as to celebrate Europe day. France will assume the Presidency of the EU on 1 July.

The Ministers expressed serious concern at the current direction of the WTO negotiations and at the lack of balance in the proposals currently on the table. The Ministers had very similar concerns about the impact on EU agriculture of the current proposals.

Speaking at a lunch in honour of Mr Barnier, Minister Smith said that "in the many debates about the CAP in the past, and in negotiations in Brussels and Geneva today, France and Ireland have always stood shoulder to shoulder in asserting the importance of farming and the food industry to the economy, society and physical environment of Europe."

The Minister warned that "the CAP must not be undermined in any way either by ill-considered reform or by an unbalanced WTO agreement. On the contrary, we must constantly seek to make the CAP more effective in supporting our farmers and food industries. Our efforts should focus on building a better and stronger CAP, adapted to contemporary needs, not to dismantling a policy that has proven so effective."

The Ministers discussed the profound importance of the current trends on world food markets and the significance this holds for our agricultural policy. They shared their views on the necessity for the CAP to continue to support sustainable agriculture into the future, in line with the European model of agriculture, thereby ensuring stable food supplies to European consumers.

Minister Smith also referred to the upcoming referendum on the Lisbon Reform Treaty noting that the benefits of EU membership to every aspect of Irish life are immense, and agriculture has been among the principal beneficiaries. "Today we have free access to half-a-billion consumers across Europe providing huge potential to every Irish farmer and food company. The European taxpayer has strongly supported the sector also, with payments amounting to over €41 billion to date," the Minister said.

"This is the background against which we need to look at the Lisbon Treaty. This Treaty provides for Ireland's voice to continue to be heard in the EU in an effective and efficient manner. I believe that a positive vote in the referendum on the Treaty will send a clear signal that Ireland is determined to maintain its place at the centre of EU decision-making."

The Minister thanked Minister Barnier for his presence in Ireland on Europe Day and assured him of Ireland's co-operation and support during France's stewardship of the EU in the second half of this year.

Date Released: 09 May 2008