By Tim Ryan, Oireachtas Correspondent
The potential for the horse export trade with China was raised in the Seanad by Labour Senator Denis Landy. An equine centre has been set up in Tianjin, the third largest city in the country, with a population of 12 million, at a cost of €2 billion to the Chinese authorities, he said.
“Coolmore Stud in Tipperary has been set up as the partner for this equine centre, which is a very good news story,” he said. He said he wished to compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who led a trade delegation to China of 127 representatives of the agri-food and equine industries.
“China has a population of 1.3 billion and we have successfully established a partnership in equine excellence with China,” he said. “We hope to export up to €40 million worth of animals and animal feed to China as a result of this over the next three years.”
He said he would like the Minister to provide some information as to the feasibility of examining this trade with China to determine if there is an opportunity for further exports and an opening up of trade in this area.
Currently he said there are 300 professional horse clubs in China, of which 16 are full-time professional clubs. These clubs currently use warm-blood horses mainly imported from the Netherlands which, incidentally, has quarantine rights for the entire world for export into China.
“There is an opportunity here for the Irish equine industry to open up trade with China and rebuild this particular industry nationally,” he said. “In the past five years, as the Minister knows, this industry has taken a severe hammering. Prices have dropped by over 100% in some cases. Generally speaking, the people in this industry are mainstream farmers who keep a number of horses, brood mares and so forth for breeding purposes. This helps them to increase their incomes on an annual basis but in recent times this trade has completely collapsed. The Connemara pony trade has also collapsed, as has the three-day eventing trade. There is an opportunity here and I ask the Minister to respond to my request that funding for a feasibility study be made available, either through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or through Leader companies.”
Replying on behalf of the Minister for Agriculture, Environment Minister Phil Hogan said it is estimated that there are 124,000 sport horses in the country, with 13,477 non-thoroughbred foals registered last year. These would include Irish sport horses, Irish draught horses and Connemara ponies, together with other breeds. There are an estimated 30,000 non-thoroughbred brood mares in the country, which 50% of mare owners having one or two mares.
“The Department is making every effort to assist enterprises in both the thoroughbred and sport horse sectors to access overseas markets, including China,” he said. “Together with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is engaged in ongoing contact with the Chinese authorities, which is aimed at concluding an agreement on animal health certification which would underpin the direct export of horses from Ireland to China. Since May 2011, Irish horses being exported to China have had to undergo a 30-day quarantine period in the Netherlands. In the interim, an animal health protocol has been agreed between the Department and the Chinese authorities.”
Government policy causing longterm social damage - Healy
It is now clear that Government policy, including the public sector pay cuts, is causing long term social damage and involves huge degrees of pain with relatively little gain, South Tipperary Independent Deputy Seamus Healy told the Dáil.
In fact, it is counter-productive, he said. The Nevin Economic Research Institute professional review has shown that cuts of €1 billion would have a net gain to the Exchequer of €250 million. That is because there would be a reduced income tax and universal social charge take, reduced retail sales tax, VAT and excise duty, increased social welfare payments and, crucially, anything up to 10,000 job losses, 5,000 of would be in the private sector.
“This is a view which is generally supported by other economists,” he said. “Professor Ray Kinsella of the UCD postgraduate school of business studies also said this sort of adjustment is tantamount to self harm. I suggest to the Minister that it is now clear that these proposals should be withdrawn and Government policy should be to stimulate and grow the economy to ensure the social damage which has already been done is reversed and real jobs are created.”
In reply the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said the Government was faced with an economic meltdown when it came into office.
“We could not pay beyond five months for services - that is how much money was in the kitty - unless we got an external funder to give us money,” he said. “The only people who gave us money was the troika, and they gave it with conditions. The idea that one can stop austerity, as if one can walk away and money will flutter down from the sky, is not accurate. We need to work towards a balanced budget. Our income as a State fell by 30% because the previous Government built an artificial model where income was predicated on construction and outgoings were expanded exponentially for the years it was in office. That had to be brought into balance. Anybody who examines the fiscal situation understands that.”
Of course he said there are implications for taking money out of the economy. That is why the Government had done things in such a measured way.
“We first extended the consolidation period to get to 3% by a year, from 2014 to 2015. We have hit the targets. The Deputy is quite wrong to say there are no obvious benefits. We have stabilised the economy and are one of the few economies in Europe to grow. The ESRI indicated that the economy will grow this year and next. We are the most attractive country in Europe for inward investment and are creating jobs. All of this is extremely difficult and I wish to God we were not forced to have to do it, but there is no simple alternative which allows us simply to continue paying because we will run out of money in very short order. Nobody will give us money at an affordable rate.”