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Independent.ie

Sunday 23 April 2017

Coveney blasts EU as Mercosur talks heat up

Minister adamant negotiations leave Ireland in vulnerable state

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Agriculture Minster Simon Coveney has launched a scathing attack on the ongoing trade talks between the EU Commission and the South American group Mercosur.

He warned that a trade agreement with Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, had the potential to seriously damage the Irish beef sector.

Speaking at the Council of EU Agriculture Ministers in Brussels last week, Minister Coveney called for a detailed analysis of the impact of any proposed agreement and said it had to be comprehensively discussed by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament before any offers are made by the Commission.

Pointing out that any further opening of the EU beef market will lead to the Mercosur countries targeting the high-value end of the trade, the minister said this would have a disproportionate impact on EU cattle prices and on returns to producers.

Copa-Cogeca has estimated that total losses from a Mercosur deal could be as high as ¿25bn for the European beef sector.

"Beef production is our largest farming sector, and is a vital part of our export-based economy, with over 80pc of its output exported to other EU countries," he said. "This leaves us particularly vulnerable to any offer that is made to Mercosur in this sector."

The Minister also drew attention to the negative climate implications of replacing EU beef with imports from South America. The carbon footprint for Irish beef is less than a quarter of the CO2 emissions associated with Brazilian beef.

The Irish position was supported by several other Council delegations, who also called for a cautious and transparent approach by the Commission in the negotiations, Minister Coveney said.


Meanwhile, ICMSA president Jackie Cahill has stated that any possible trade deal between the EU and Mercosur would present a substantial threat to Ireland's national interests.

Mr Cahill's comments followed a meeting with the Commission in which officials acknowledged that such a deal would damage the EU beef sector in general and the Irish sector in particular.

The Commission is of the view that some form of compensation package might be offered to offset the damage caused by mass imports of South American beef.

The ICMSA chief called on Minister Coveney to reject any fundamental change to the nature and scale of beef imports from South America and the idea of a compensation package.

"We should oppose the Mercosur deal with every ounce of energy we have," Mr Cahill said.

"But if it does happen, we should insist as an absolute deal-breaker that South American beef imports meet exactly the same tests and regulatory requirements as Irish or Scottish beef.

"The Commission is going to shaft Europe's beef sector and we're the most successful beef exporters within that sector.

"It's time that we started to draw some lines or draw some conclusions."

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