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Sunday 4 December 2016

Independent view: Challenges are clear for new minister

Declan O'Brien

Published 01/03/2011 | 05:00

The dust has hardly settled on the election results and already the focus is turning to the formation of the new Government.

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The urgency which is being given to the process is understandable given the serious challenges that lie ahead.

On the economic front, three key EU gatherings are scheduled for the coming fortnight, including a summit of eurozone finance ministers.

A review of the ongoing rescue plan for the banking sector and the bailout packages for Ireland will be the critical issues for the new Government.

From a farming perspective, the immediate focus will be on the choice of Brendan Smith's successor.

As is clear from latest odds outlined on page 2, horse-trading between Fine Gael and Labour, along with internal politics within the larger coalition party, will have a critical influence on the final decision.

However, the over-riding consideration in choosing the new minister for agriculture should be suitability for the job and, more importantly, an ability to do it.

Given the dire economic circumstances that the country finds itself in, now is not the time for rewarding political supporters or excluding past opponents.

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For the incoming minister, the challenges are clear. Although the sector has weathered the recession better than most, the ongoing CAP reform process and the Mercosur trade negotiations have the potential to seriously dent farm incomes.

Protecting the level of CAP payments to Irish farmers from the latest reforms will not be easy given the demand from Eastern Europe for a greater share of the total EU farm spend and the real threat to the overall CAP budget. Similarly, the Mercosur negotiations appear to be building momentum and, as with the 2008 WTO talks, the agenda is being set by the Commission's trade section.

It is difficult to get a real handle on the degree of progress that has been made so far in the talks but the potential damage that could be done to the local beef industry was highlighted recently by the EU farmer body COPA, which estimated that prices could fall by 30pc were South American beef producers allowed greater access to the European market.

In terms of domestic farm policy, putting structures in place to deliver the Food Harvest 2020 expansion plan will have to be a priority.

In addition, protecting the industry from the impact of any new proposals on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a major challenge.

Ireland's farm sector can undoubtedly play a key role in the country's economic recovery.

However, if agriculture is to deliver on its potential, the right person steering the ship would help.

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