Officials to inspect live export licensing

The Competition Authority is “looking into” Irish regulations that affect the export of live cattle from Ireland by boat.

This follows a complaint from Co Clare Labour TD Michael McNamara, who said that because of falling beef prices, he complained to both the European Commission and the Competition Authority.

He told them that licensing of boats from Ireland servicing the live cattle trade is far stricter than in other EU countries, and boats licenced in other EU member states could not operate in Ireland.

A Competition Authority spokesperson confirmed the complaint from Mr McNamara, but stopped short of describing their response as an “investigation”, saying “investigations” generally relate to breaches of competition law, and therefore are enforcement matters.

“This issue relates to regulations and statutory instruments, and therefore is a matter for the Advocacy Division.

“The Advocacy Division works with Government departments and other state bodies to identify laws, regulations or administrative practices that have a negative impact on competition, but are not necessarily against the law.”

Mr McNamara had previously complained in the Dáil that Irish regulations governing transport of live animals posed an unnecessary barrier to trade in live animals, and were contrary to EU free competition.

He said, “In the last Dáil session, I tabled a parliamentary question asking how many boats were licensed to take cattle to Libya, and the Minister very proudly told me that there were two boats, and that Ireland operates the strictest regime in Europe for the live export of animals.

“I find it hard to believe that states such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Sweden do not take animal rights seriously, and that we are the only state that does. I am all in favour of carrying live animals in the safest possible conditions, but not using this as an excuse to close the Irish beef market to live exporters.

“I question why we make it so hard to send cattle outside the State, and particularly to third countries such as those in North Africa, when Bord Bia advises that there is a market there. The Irish Cattle Exporters Association has advised there is a market there, but its members cannot get the boats.

“I look forward to the results of the Competition Authority’s enquiries.

“My own hunch is that in applying EU regulations here, we may have been overzealous in protecting the interests of beef processors.

“I don’t question the added value associated with processing beef, but we also need to ensure that the farmer gets a fair price and that is not the case at the moment.

“A healthy live cattle trade combined with the home processing sector is essential to maintain Irish beef production in a healthy state.

“The balance is tilted against the live trade currently, and it is my view that restrictive practices which cause this should be removed, but in a way that continues to protect animal rights and safety to the highest standards,” said Deputy McNamara.

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