Beef and Trade the Key Focus
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney T.D, today concluded a four day mission to the US, in Washington DC, where he met with senior political figures and other key influencers on Capitol Hill.
The Minister was in the US to promote Irish food, including beef, in anticipation of the opening of the US market to Irish beef in the autumn. The sustainability of Irish grass based farm model was a key theme. Bord Bia’s Origin Green Programme, which provides a framework for farmers and processors to commit to sustainability targets, was used as a platform to build a point of differentiation for Irish produce with potential purchasers in the US.
Speaking from Washington, the Minister referred to the critical importance of getting the Irish message across to key US opinion shapers in the context of the Trade negotiations (TTIP) between the EU and the US:
“I am confident that for export focussed countries like Ireland, a comprehensive trade agreement with the US can offer many advantages, but only if it takes account of vulnerable sectors like beef. A balanced deal would also provide tremendous opportunity for increased agri food trade with the US, in particular in the dairy sector. Meeting key political players in Washington provides an important opportunity for face to face engagement to articulate Ireland’s broad support for a constructive trade deal, but also to explain our key concerns when it comes to agriculture, and beef in particular. ”
The Washington leg was heavily trade focussed. Building on discussions in Ireland last week with US Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, Minister Coveney met with Krysta Harding, Deputy Secretary of State for Agriculture. He also met Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan based Democrat who plays a key role in agriculture matters. The programme also included meetings with Sharon Baumer Lauritsen, from the Office of the US Trade Representative, who has overall responsibility for agricultural trade in the ongoing Transatlantic Trade negotiations between the EU and the US, and with Dr. Joe Glauber, Chief Economist at the US Department of Agriculture.
Minister Coveney also used the opportunity to outline Ireland’s ambitious plans for the development of its agri food sector, based on an environmentally sustainable model for growth. He also acknowledged the progress on the beef access issue, and pressed for access to the US market for Irish sheepmeat:
“Following a significant diplomatic and technical effort, we have made real progress on obtaining access for Irish beef to the US. Subject to a forthcoming audit of Irish beef plants by USDA going as expected; I am confident that Irish beef can be on US retail shelves by early Autumn this year. The next step is sheepmeat, and today was an opportunity to press for the publication by USDA of the small ruminant rule that will pave the way for US market access for Irish sheepmeat. “
During the visit, Minister Coveney met with Wegmans, a major East coast retail outlet, which will be of key importance to Ireland in the context of getting Irish beef onto shelves in the US. The Minister also officially opened an $80m cheese manufacturing and innovation centre for the Irish Dairy Board in Wisconsin. This state of the art facility provides a critically important route to market for Irish casein, and is helping to build Ireland’s reputation as a centre of excellence for food based innovation, research and development.
Concluding, the Minister referred to the critical importance of the relationship with the US for the Irish agri food industry:
“Currently Irish food and drink exports to the US exceed €0.5 billion in value. Irish companies can increase that significantly, based on the high quality of their products, our strong and effective regulatory and food safety control systems. Also the work being done through the Origin Green Programme demonstrates the strong sustainability
credentials of Irish farms and processing companies. I am delighted to have been able to play an important part in furthering that agenda with key commercial and political players in the US this week.”