CLUSTERING of local food producers and a greater emphasis on regional branding could significantly boost agri-food sector job creation, according to a new report.
Louth-based Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan believes farmers throughout the island could learn from the success of Fuchsia, the brand developed by West Cork Leader group to promote the region’s produce. His report was unveiled yesterday by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.
Mr Morgan said: “I was looking at the Fuchsia brand, which has been a very successful enterprise. We need more regional brands like that, and then have them all feed into Brand Ireland, which would have a huge capacity to be marketed internationally.
“Kerry Group has achieved this. With Government assistance, local clusters and networks could be hugely successful. The next move would be to approach Bord Bia and other Government agencies to see if we could move this on.”
The Sinn Féin TD’s report also suggests forming an All-Ireland economic committee comprised of decision-makers from the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly to seek agreement on the convergence of corporation tax, excise and VAT rates in both jurisdictions. This would help develop and expand employment in the agri-food sector, says the report.
The report also recommends the setting up of a forum of supermarket suppliers and producer organisations, leading to the establishment of a working committee of each representative group/sub-sector, to negotiate a fair trading regime for all stakeholders, possibly on an All-Ireland basis. It also calls for greater All-Ireland coordination and joint collaboration on research and development.
Mr Morgan also calls for consumer concerns about food labelling to be addressed: “We need to establish an all-Ireland consultative group on ‘Country of Origin’ food labelling.
“At present, we are seeing chicken coming in from Thailand, and the supermarkets here are able to mark it Irish because they’ve sprinkled a bit of parsley on it.
“This needs the involvement of the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Children, Enterprise Trade and Innovation, and the Committee on EU Affairs. The issue is focused on the ‘substantial transformation’ of the product, and it’s an issue we need to do something about very quickly. I believe that the European Commission and the World Trade Organisation will be sympathetic to this suggestion.”
Mr Morgan’s report also notes that the agri-food sector accounts for half of purchased Irish goods and services by the manufacturing industry and just over half of exports by indigenous manufacturing industries. It accounts for 16% of industrial output and recorded almost 40% or €2.25 billion growth in exports during the 2002 to 2007 period.
The report also addresses issues such as the sterling exchange rate, the regulatory structure, the power of the major retailers, costs, and the difficulty businesses are facing in accessing credit.
Willie Penrose, TD, chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, said: “Even in this recession, we have the potential to create jobs and turn our economy around. We need to be more proactive in economic planning and in reducing our exposure to global economy shocks. We need to plant sustainable economic roots and develop our sectors of advantage. One of these sectors is the agri-food sector, Ireland’s largest indigenous, manufacturing sector. As such it is crucial to sustaining and reinvigorating our economy.”
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