Stronger Links With The EU And North America Are Vital Says O'Neill

The North is working hard to strengthen its agri-food trade links with the United States and across the European Union.

That was the key message from Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill when she addressed the prestigious 37th North American and EU Agricultural Conference Gala Dinner in Belfast on Thursday 22 October.

dn_screenThe Minister said: “The current constraints on some markets highlight the importance of maintaining access to international export markets and seeking out new ones. This is one of my top priorities and we are making good headway.

“For over a decade, we have helped build US confidence in our agri-food production systems. Our work as competent authority has enabled the export of pork to the US since 2002. Also recent dairy exports will enable both our diaspora and US consumers to savour the delights of our locally produced products. I am sure that our growing reputation and this long-standing relationship will assist us in attaining approval to export our high quality beef and lamb in due course.

“There are also a large number of ongoing international trade negotiations involving the EU and including potential trade agreements with our partners in Canada and the US. These talks offer great opportunities, but also threats. As Farm Minister in the north, I want to see a balanced outcome and a fair playing field, so that whatever standards our farmers have to observe are also imposed on imports.”

The Minister told guests at the event in Titanic Belfast that the north has one of the longest established farm quality assurance schemes for our beef and lamb – 99% of beef slaughtered in the north meets exacting FQAS standards. She added that her Department’s veterinary expertise and oversight of producers and processors is key to providing international markets with assurance that the north offers high quality, traceable, safe and wholesome agri-exports.

The Minister went on to say: “My officials have been working closely with our beef and lamb processors to make preparations for an eagerly awaited approval inspection by US officials which I hope will take place soon and we will work with our industry to meet US requirements. I also welcome the progress that has been made to date on the legislative changes required to enable the export of local lamb to the US and I look forward to these being implemented in the near future.”

During her keynote speech, the Minister also spoke of how important the local agri-food industry is to the local economy and of her plans for the future.

She said: “We have a strong, world class agri-food industry which contributes substantially to our local economy. We have a clear strategy for the future direction of our industry – called Going for Growth. It has been developed by the industry for the industry with a central premise that there is one single supply chain which must be integrated, sustainable and profitable and focussed on delivering the needs of the market. It recognises our key strengths – our lush green countryside, our high levels of animal husbandry and welfare, our skilled workforce and our reputation for producing high quality, safe, traceable food – and it aims to build upon them.”

She pointed to recent statistics which show an increase in employment in the food and drinks industry, as well as increased exports of more than 7%.

The Minister then addressed the recent challenges facing the farming sector as a result of factors largely outside the local industry’s control, including depressed key export markets, the Russian ban on food imports and over-supply. Exchange rate changes have compounded our problems.

She said: “I have been working hard with my officials, representatives from across the supply chain, and my counterparts at home, in the south, Britain and Europe to help our industry to cope with the current challenging global conditions and to build strong foundations for the future. I believe that industry working together, and in partnership with government, can realise the ambitions envisaged in Going for Growth and deliver benefits for every part of our supply chain.”