24 April 2012  Ireland’s agri-food sector is one of our most important industries producing top-quality products for the home and export markets and often in a very innovative manner.
So, I was delighted that our Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney, led a delegation to China last week to explore future export opportunities.

The week-long food and agri-business trade mission to China has resulted in two new Bord Bia initiatives. The Ireland-China Food Network will target the Irish diaspora living in China in order to increase sales of Irish produce. The Ireland-China Food Hub, meanwhile, will provide a shared base for Irish exporters in China in the form of a practical office space.

Some 51 industry stakeholders joined Minister Coveney on the trade mission to showcase Ireland’s best produce. The collaboration between industry and government was a huge success and has paved the path for a surge of Irish exports to China. Congratulations to all involved.

Good Food Ireland Survey

This welcome boost for the food industry was reinforced by a favourable survey that estimates 80% of food businesses expect growth in earnings this year.
The Secret Ingredient to Irish Tourism and Export Growth survey published yesterday found that two out of three businesses surveyed had achieved their earnings expectations last year, despite the recession.

The report by Good Food Ireland and Grant Thornton includes a survey of Good Food Ireland members. The all-island group has over 500 members representing a variety of food related businesses.

Encouragingly, almost a quarter of those surveyed are currently exporting, with plans to target new markets next year, while another 17% are planning to export their products.

Ireland’s food industry is showing confidence in its future and quite deservedly. Industry members are willing to innovate and look to new markets, a vital part of growing any business.

The survey did note that the biggest challenge facing those running food businesses are operating costs, access to finance, red tape and the cost of exporting. Those are issues government is aware of and working to resolve. They are also issues which the EU has a role in. Commitments to reduce red tape need to be translated into achievements in this area.

Defective PIP implants

As a member of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, I will keep a keen eye on a proposed resolution put forward by the committee this week on the defective silicone gel breast implants by Poly Implant Prothese (PIP).

The PIP implants case raised extremely serious health and consumer questions. It clearly demonstrated that the EU rules intended to protect consumers in relation to medical devices, including breast implants, are totally inadequate and do not fully protect against manufacturers with deliberate fraudulent intent.

Thousands of women were affected and have had their faith in EU consumer law tested. However, if the EU does not take specific and effective measures to prevent this kind of issue reoccurring, the damage to our citizens will be far greater.

The truth is that few of us fully understand the systems of controls on medical devices, instead putting our faith in the system. When abuses occur, our confidence is shattered. For some they are directly affected. The objective must be to adjust the system to better protect people, while not discouraging innovation in medical device technology.

French Presidential Election

Those of you following the French Presidential Election this week will have noticed the system differs quite a bit to an Irish election. The first major difference was the absence of posters in Strasbourg – posters are only permitted in certain limited areas. Could that idea catch on in Ireland?!

The first round has concluded and all but two candidates have been eliminated. The Socialist Party’s François Hollande beat the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy of the centre-right UMP when counting finished yesterday. Mr Hollande narrowly saw off Mr Sarkozy by 28.6% to 27.1%. It is the first time a sitting president has lost in the first round.

The candidates now have two weeks to campaign further before the final deciding second-round of the election on May 6th.

The first round certainly interested the French electorate with a very high turnout of around 80% at polling stations. We will have to wait and see if the candidates garner the same interest in round two!

Naturally the result is being closely watched in the EU and globally, markets are anxious, disliking uncertainty. The coming weeks with be fascinating

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