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Republic Of Ireland (Beef)

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 23 April 1987

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the level of import of beef from the Republic of Ireland.

Imports of beef from the Irish Republic totalled 122,000 tonnes in 1986. The green rate change secured in December has reduced the UK MCA and eliminated the advantage which Irish exporters gained last summer. Imports in the first two months of 1987 were 15,656 tonnes.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the only reason why imports of Irish beef in recent months have fallen below the 10,000 tonnes a month that were being imported at the end of 1986 is that the Irish seem temporarily to have run out of cattle to send here? Is there not a very serious threat of a new surge of imports following the clampdown on intervention buying in the Republic of Ireland earlier this month, and will he take urgent action, either through a further adjustment of the green pound or through any other mechanism that is available to him, to protect the interests of British producers against unfair competition from Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman must, I think, accept that that is not the only reason. Part of the reason is the effect of the change in the green pound that we have already secured, but he is perfectly right in saying that the green pound differential adds to the difficulties and provides opportunities for the Irish in our market. It is a traditional market for the Irish, and the hon. Gentleman is quite right that many British farmers very rightly feel aggrieved that they are being undercut in their own market. However, I would remind him that this is partly also one of the inevitable effects of the beef variable premium arrangements, which were put into operation by his own right hon. Friend. Those arrangements mean that the beef variable premium is payable on Irish products that are sold in this country. In order to put that right, a series of measures will have to be taken. In our negotiations we are very conscious of the needs of the beef industry and of the way that it is affected by our near neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.

My right hon. Friend must be aware that in 1986 beef imports to the United Kingdom from Ireland were 48 per cent. above those of the previous year, and the 6 per cent. reduction in the green pound was certainly not adequate for United Kingdom beef producers. Will he therefore ensure in the negotiations that whatever reduction there may be in the green pound, it will not disadvantage United Kingdom beef producers? They cannot cope with a reduction in the green pound if the same kind of reduction is given to the Irish. The Irish should not be allowed unfairly to compete against United Kingdom producers.

My hon. Friend ought to remember that during the negotiations, and finally almost the fisticuffs, to ensure that the green pound devaluation for beef in this country was equal to that in the Republic of Ireland, we made the point that he has made, namely, that changes in the green pound for Ireland inevitably demand a similar change in the green pound for the United Kingdom if there is not to be a further distortion in relations between the two countries.