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Agri-food Marketing Organisation

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 3rd October 2016.

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Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 3rd October 2016

1. Mr Kelly asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for an update on the agri-food marketing organisation recommended in the Going for Growth strategy. (AQO 366/16-21)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

In 'Going for Growth', the Agri-Food Strategy Board recommended the creation of an agri-food marketing organisation with a clear food-promotion strategy. Following that, my colleague the First Minister, in her former role as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, commissioned a review of agri-food marketing arrangements in Northern Ireland and endorsed the review's conclusion that an agri-food marketing body be established to coordinate the marketing of our food and drink produce based on the model of Scotland Food and Drink.

Work on the project is being led by the Department for the Economy. I share my colleague Economy Minister Simon Hamilton's view that the marketing body should be established as soon as is practicably possible. Local farmers and fishermen need to be confident that there are sustainable markets in which to sell their produce. Any strategic growth in the agri-food sector will be export-led, and a strategic, coordinated approach to marketing through a single organisation is key to delivering that growth. My officials are supporting their DFE counterparts and industry representatives in developing an agreed model that will allow the Executive to provide suitable government support to the new body and will satisfy the requirements of the industry and government.

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. I thank the Minister. Does she agree that the result of the EU referendum will make the job of any marketing organisation much more difficult?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. The need for a marketing organisation was established long before Brexit. Brexit reinforces the need for the body. We need a marketing body for Northern Ireland produce. We need to ensure that our product goes to appropriate markets and that our markets are open right across the United Kingdom. We need to retain existing markets and have the opportunities to go to new markets. A marketing organisation allows us to do that. It needs to be set up as quickly as possible, and I am working along with colleagues in Economy to do so.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Minister for the commitment to work as quickly as possible. Will she give us some indication of when it will happen? At the moment, without that body in place, we are missing opportunities.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I appreciate that. I met the Agri-Food Strategy Board in relation to that. Obviously, there are some issues in relation to what the model looks like and how it will be presented. There is an opportunity to bring all the groups that we currently have together under an umbrella organisation quite quickly. The Agri-Food Strategy Board has been working on it for some time, so it perhaps sees a different model. There is an urgency in relation to setting it up.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thank the Minister for her answers thus far. I also thank her for visiting my constituency at the weekend in relation to the agri-food industry by attending the Northern Ireland Potato Festival at the Giant's Causeway: a world-class venue to celebrate the humble spud.

Will the Minister give the House an update in relation to the agri-food processing investment grant scheme and how it will be processed in the future?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I had a very good day in the north-west; I was also in Limavady for the International Ploughing Championships. The agri-food processing investment grant scheme has a proposed budget of £27·5 million. Its purpose is to improve the economic performance and competitiveness of the agri-food sector. This will be through capital investment in processing, marketing and/or development of agricultural products. Again, we are working with the Economy Department and Invest NI to explore the scope and feasibility of a single streamlined offering to support the food sector. I want to make sure that we deliver a scheme that best fits the needs of the local agri-food processing sector. Let me be clear that we will take these decisions as quickly as possible, and we will start to implement the scheme as soon as possible.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

As the Minister indicated, the need for the joint body has been established for some time, and I believe that it has been green-lit for some time. Can you outline the reasons why it has not happened to date? Is there anything that we should know?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I have only been in post since May, so I am unclear as to what the processes were before that and what engagement there was with the previous Minister and DETI colleagues. All I can say is that I have given a commitment to this, there is a purpose to it and we should get behind it in order to deliver on it as quickly as possible.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

Question 2 has been withdrawn within the time limits.