Agriculture Minister adopting minimalist approach to Unfair Trading Practices – Matt Carthy TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Matt Carthy TD has accused Minister Charlie McConologue of adopting a minimalist approach to tackling unfair trading practices in the sector. He said that the Agriculture Minister has shown no signs that he is willing to challenge the dominance of processors and retailers which drive down the margins paid to primary producers.
Deputy Carthy was speaking further to a parliamentary question response in which the Minister stated his intention to meet the May 1st deadline of implementation of the EU Unfair Trading Practices Directive via a Statutory Instrument, rather than through primary legislation.
Teachta Carthy said:
“While an MEP I argued that the Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) Directive did not go far enough to rebalance the scales for primary producers in the market chain and I warned that governments could adopt a minimalist approach which would not deliver for family farmers.
“It is now clear that Irish government intends to pursue this minimalist approach. Minister McConologue plans to implement the UTP Directive via Statutory Instrument rather than primary legislation. This will undoubtedly limit the scope of the directive, ensure that there are no additional unfair trading practices restrictions and that the ability for engagement by opposition parties and farm organisations will be reduced.
“There is almost universal acceptance that there is a need for a strong legislative protection in the market chain for our farmers, particularly in the beef sector. The EU directive does not go far enough but it gives scope to national governments to restrict further practices. The Minister has given no indication that he will use this additional scope to, for example, ban below cost selling of food by retailers or prevent the use of arbitrary rules such as the four-movement and 30-month rules by factories.
“The government have also refused to establish a Meat Industry Regulator instead committing to a Food Ombudsman. But, six months since the programme for government, there is no sign of the realisation of the Ombudsman, it is not included in the Spring Legislative Agenda.
“In Budget 2021 the Minister celebrated securing funding for the Ombudsman – what has changed since then?
“On top of the profound new challenges that Covid-19 and Brexit have presented, the position of farmers is already perilous due to the ongoing dominance of the meat factories and large retailers. This dominance needs to be tackled and we need an Agriculture Minister that is willing to do that.
“While I am sceptical of the impact that a Food Ombudsman can deliver for farmers, Minister McConalogue insinuates that it will be a panacea. He therefore must outline the clear timeframe for its establishment and also the powers it will be given. The minimalist approach adopted in respect of the Unfair Trading Practices Directive will not inspire much confidence unfortunately”.
PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION: Matt Carthy TD
To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine the status of the transposition of the EU Unfair Trading Practices Directive; if he plans to exclude additional unfair trading practice directives in domestic legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
REPLY: Minister Charlie McConalogue
Directive (EU) No. 2019/633 on unfair trading practices in business-to-business relationships in the agricultural and food supply chain (UTP Directive) must be transposed into Irish law by 1st May 2021. This can be done by way of a Statutory Instrument, but any measures that extend beyond the minimum harmonisation requirements of the UTP Directive will require primary legislation.
The Programme for Government includes a commitment to:
Ensure fairness, equity, and transparency in the food chain by establishing a new authority called the National Food Ombudsman (NFO) to enforce the Unfair Trading Practices Directive. This new authority will enforce EU-wide rules on prohibited unfair trading practices in the food supply chain and will have powers to enforce this Directive, penalising those who breach regulations. The NFO will have a specific role in analysing and reporting on price and market data in Ireland.
My officials are currently drafting a proposal for a Statutory Instrument to directly transpose the UTP Directive as it stands. In addition, the legal requirements for the establishment of a new Office of a Food Ombudsman or equivalent are also being considered, including the requirement for primary legislation in order to give that Office additional powers beyond those in the UTP Directive.
This new office will be an important step in our commitment to bringing transparency to our food sector.