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Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD concludes successful visit to Washington, D.C.

- Meets US Secretary for Agriculture Vilsack and Key Players on Capitol Hill -

Simon Coveney TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, is in Washington, D.C., for meetings with senior members of the U.S. administration and Congress. The meetings kick off a full week of intensive discussions surrounding agriculture market access and trade issues and the potential the Irish agri-food sector offers for US direct investment.   

During his meeting with Secretary Thomas Vilsack, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Minister Coveney referred to the publication of new draft rules and regulations which would pave the way for Irish beef to be sold on the potentially lucrative US market. The USDA is currently in the process of analysing the outcome of a public consultation in relation to the BSE Rule, which is intended to align U.S. BSE classifications for other countries, including Ireland, with internationally accepted standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The Minister called on Secretary Vilsack to ensure that the USDA process of analysis was expedited, citing support from major U.S. and international beef interests.

"The public comment period has finalised and USDA experts are analysing the submissions, including a submission made by my Department. Ireland's OIE status is the same as that of the US. We have high quality, sustainable beef from animals raised on pasturelands and I am confident that the  quality of the product we have to offer, together with  tremendously positive reputation Ireland enjoys among consumers in the United States, means that the opening of the US market can provide important business opportunities for the Irish beef industry. I believe that the image of grass fed Irish beef will have a strong resonance with the 40 million US citizens who claim Irish ancestry and with others, and I fully expect that that the  process currently under way will ultimately  lead to Irish beef access to the United States," said Minister Coveney.

The Minister also sought assurances that a similar rule permitting Irish lamb exports would be introduced without delay. "The  changes in the proposed US  import rules contain no substantive changes to the regulations regarding sheepmeat, and against this background, I have advised Secretary Vilsack that Irish operators have a keen interest in gaining access to the US market for Irish lamb, and urged him to begin the consultation process on import rules for ovines and caprines as soon as possible."

On Capitol Hill, the Minister held firm to his position on the BSE Rule in meetings with the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and with senior Senators Pat Roberts and Charles Grassley both of whom are key influencers in agriculture and food matters. He also met with Senator Michael Johanns, himself a former US Secretary for Agriculture. "The Senators involved in these meetings were co-signatories on a recent letter requesting that USDA move to the international OIE standard," said the Minister. "Their support and insight are very valuable as we look to develop a market here."

Minister Coveney also took the opportunity to meet with Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Food at the Food and Drug Administration to highlight some concerns on the recently introduced Food Safety and Modernisation Act which has the possibility to impact on Irish food importers.  Ireland's food production standards and EU Food Law in presenting a case that Ireland be considered a 'privileged partner'.

Speaking after his meetings on Capitol Hill, Minister Coveney said "My  visit to Washington, D.C., has proved an excellent opportunity to not only bring Irish agri-food companies to the forefront of the minds of Washington's legislators and agri-food leaders, but also to re-affirm the productive working trade relationship Ireland enjoys with the United States. I am confident that the bridges we are building here will ultimately pay dividends for the Irish agri food sector".

Minister Coveney will now continue on to Chicago, where focus will shift to Foreign Direct Investment with leaders of the Irish agri-food Diaspora.

For more details contact Martina Kearney on 086 8055092

PR 129/12 IMG3668 - 26.06.2012

Date Released: 27 June 2012