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Farmers would welcome free trade — provided it is fair trade

YOUR columnist Steven King (April 30) appears to dismiss the agricultural sector of the economy as a has-been industry being fast-tracked to inevitable decline by the WTO negotiations.

Mr King’s statement that those interested in saving the agricultural industry have focused on turning EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson into an “Irish hate figure” suggests the industry is averse to forensic economic examination in making a case for its survival, preferring to stick to emotive issues in a bid for support.

While there certainly are values at stake in terms of the future of the countryside, the family farm structure and a way of life, the industry is more than able to stand up to economic scrutiny.

Farmers welcome free trade, provided it is fair trade.

If EU consumers demand high quality food, traceable from farm to fork and produced to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards, then all those who wish to put their products on the supermarket shelves of Europe should meet this standard. The fear of primary producers is that imported food, which would be illegal for farmers of the EU 27 to produce, will displace their product on the supermarket shelves.

Consequently, thousands of farmers not just in Ireland but across the EU will be driven out of farming at a time when the IMF, the World Bank and the UN are warning about food security, hunger and associated political instability.

The services sector may have been the stellar performer of the Irish economy in recent years. This, however, is no reason why the world’s number one exporter of computer information and insurance services should sacrifice on the WTO altar an indigenous industry which happens to be the world’s fourth largest exporter of beef, and for what?

There is no doubt that WTO negotiations should enable Ireland’s services sectors potential to prosper.

Alarmingly, however, there appears to have been little progress made to date in this regard in non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiations. So it would appear agriculture is to be the sacrificial lamb with little evidence of any trade-off or a so-called ‘balanced deal’ for the economy.

Unlike Mr King, I believe the agricultural sector is capable not only of surviving but of prospering.

If fair trade conditions are fostered, Irish agriculture can continue to compete and win globally.

Unlike Mr King, I do not believe Commissioner Mandelson’s offer of cutting subsidies to such an extent could under any circumstances be considered a “worthwhile gamble”.

A fair and successful outcome is contingent on Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan fighting the fight, even at this late stage.

Michael Creed TD

Fine Gael Spokesman

on Agriculture

Leinster House

Kildare Street

Dublin 2


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