Beet Ireland’s plans to revive the Irish sugar industry have been boosted by the recent EU Council of Ministers’ agreement to abolish quota restrictions by 2017.
While this abolition date must yet be ratified by the EU Commission and the European Parliament, Beet Ireland has been quick to praise Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney’s achievement in getting other EU agri ministers to shift towards Ireland’s position.
“I think the general view is that the council of ministers and the commission are very close in their views on this,” said Beet Ireland director Jim O’Regan.
“We would be very complimentary of the way Minister Coveney has fought a tough battle to get 2017 as a compromise year.
“We are very confident about reviving the industry. We had three parts to our plan — the site, the abolition of quotas and the finance. We now believe we have the first two of those in place.
“We also have some major investors and one major bank on board, who are very interested in financing the project, particularly the farmer’s side of the investment. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour have all endorsed our plan, as has the agri-business sector and groups such as Macra na Feirme and the ICMSA.”
If 2017 is the approved abolition date, commercial Irish tillage farmers can begin planting sugar beet in spring 2016. Harvested in October, the beet will then enter the 2017 marketing year.
In Dáil debates, Mr Coveney confirmed that EU member states were deeply divided on the issue of sugar quota. He compared Ireland’s desire to end quotas by 2015 with others who wished to extend quotas to 2020 and beyond.
Mr Coveney said: “As president of the council, I made a compromise proposal, that garnered the support of a large majority of member states, to extend the quota regime for a further two years until Sept 30, 2017.
“The European Parliament is in favour of extending quotas to 2020. The council is now well placed to enter into trilogue discussions between the EU Commission and the Parliament on the future of sugar quotas in the EU.”
Mr Coveney said this was a good compromise as it pulled back substantially from the 2020 end date that had been demanded by many EU states.
However, the minister was criticised by FF deputy Eamon Ó Cuiv for not being able to persuade his colleagues in the Council to adopt what he said was the Commission’s position, namely to cease the sugar quota in 2015.
Mr Ó Cuiv said: “The Government made revitalising the sugar industry an important part of the programme for Government. I am told it can be done before 2017, if the quotas go. It is disappointing that we are now being told we must wait until 2017 for that.”
Mr Coveney replied: “If the deputy knew the lengths we went to get an agreement on sugar, he would realise how farcical his comments are. This was the most difficult issue on which to get agreement.
“Every member state that has a sugar industry at present, with the exception of the UK, wants to extend sugar quotas until 2020. The European Parliament has already agreed that its position should be to extend sugar quotas until 2020.
“I took a strong stand against that because countries such as Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia and others would be locked out of sugar production as a result. [...] The soonest date that is politically possible is 2017.”
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