The Irish Farmers’ Association in Mayo are expressing their relief this week at the breakdown of the World Trade Organisation talks, but the lack of a deal could have serious implications for Mayo’s largest employers who export €3bn worth of products every year and employ 3,000 people.
Fianna Fáil TD Beverley Flynn has warned that any future deal must not jeopardise Ireland’s agricultural industry but she has stressed that agriculture only accounts for six per cent of the country’s exports in comparison to the 56 per cent of exports from the services industry, which includes the pharmaceutical sector.
Martin Gavin, Mayo IFA chairman, said if the deal had been adopted in its current format the agri industry in Mayo and in Ireland would have been decimated. He also outlined the danger the deal posed for beef and sheep farming as well as the wider agri-food industry. In Mayo alone there are two meat processing plants, in Ballinrobe and Ballyhaunis, which Mr Gavin said have been saved as well as the whole NCF structure.
“We put our figures on the table to back up our opposition to the deal as far back as December,” he told the Mayo Advertiser yesterday (Thursday ).
But Deputy Flynn said the WTO deal was not necessarily bad. She said as a county it would have been beneficial for a deal to have been struck but only a deal that wouldn’t have seen agriculture sacrificed.
Recently Dep Flynn led a deputation from Mayo’s top industries in discussions with the Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey TD.
The deputation, which included senior management personnel from Baxter Healthcare, Allergan and Coca Cola, outlined the negative impact on costs arising from poor transport links between Mayo and Dublin. These companies, who are the backbone of employment in Mayo and who export €3bn in products every year, would have benefited from a world trade deal but their investment in research and development should copperfasten their survival, according to Dep Flynn. However, she warned that American companies are always looking at the worldwide market and with labour costs in the Far East and China lower than in Ireland we are lucky they are investing in research and development in this county and not relying solely on manufacturing.
“We outlined for the Minister the urgent need to upgrade the road access links to the west if Mayo industries were to remain competitive in what are times of increasing difficulty,” said Dep Flynn.
“In particular we emphasised the need for the urgent upgrade of the N5 Bohola to Westport, the N26 and the 35km of underdeveloped route access through County Roscommon,” she added.
Dep Flynn said that she had told Minister Dempsey that over 3,000 Mayo people are employed in the major international companies which are now based in the county.
“These companies are the backbone of employment in Mayo. They are committed to their operations in the county and they are ready to invest and expand further. However, they need the infrastructure to enable them to compete effectively in a world where market access is such a vital factor,” she stated.
In this regard the Fianna Fáil TD outlined Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan’s efforts in securing individual agreements with countries in Asia. “Even though the talks have collapsed she is still pursuing individual agreements but it would be preferable to have a world trade deal,” Dep Flynn stressed. She added that agriculture has been regulated extensively since Ireland became a member of the EU, a membership which also opened up a market of 500 million people. “It would be outrageous to expect us to import agriculture products that don’t have the same standards as Irish products,” she outlined, but added that the ideal solution would be to get a world trade deal that safeguarded food standards.