Farmers protest at 'EU sellout' of beef industry in trade deal talks
Published 05/05/2016 | 02:30
Farmers took to the streets outside the EU Commission offices to highlight the potential "sellout" of the multi-billion-euro beef industry in trade talks with South American countries.
Concerns have been rising over discussions at EU level over the impact a deal with the Mercosur trade bloc - including the major beef powerhouse Brazil - would have on Ireland's €2.5bn beef industry, which depends on EU markets for over 90pc of its exports.
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA), which staged the protest outside the EU Commission offices in Dublin, described the offer coming from EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström as "reckless concessions".
ICSA President Patrick Kent said the EU Commission has no mandate to push for a trade deal at "such a huge cost" to the European beef sector.
He said they were particularly alarmed at the level of the tariff rate quota, which would see 78,000 tonnes of beef enter Europe at low cost.
There is also concern because this comes on top of potentially similar offers to the US under the separate Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal.
Mr Kent said the EU Commission must "row back" from a proposed deal with the Mercosur-trade bloc of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay.
It comes as Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents the country's meat processors, warned that demand for beef remained "sluggish" across the EU and the UK.
MII chair Philip Carroll said Ireland was particularly exposed to market "volatility" and it highlighted the need for as many international markets for Ireland's beef as possible.
"Worryingly, the EU Commission is instead intent on making an excessive offer in trade negotiations with Mercosur which will cause even further levels of uncertainty and instability in EU beef markets, where consumption has declined by 500,000 tonnes over the past few years.
"It is not too late for the Taoiseach to intervene with EU Commission President (Jean-Claude) Juncker to prevent this damaging initiative."
Mr Carroll said the processors have continually called for agreement to be finalised in talks with the US over the proposed opening of the market to Irish manufacturing beef for burgers and other products.
He urged acting Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to call his US counterpart in the coming days to try to get the agreement finalised.
Mr Carroll said the opening of the markets and the protection of the EU market from the Mercosur deal would be "critical" to ensuring the sustainability of Irish beef.
Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Joe Healy said any offer on beef in a Mercosur deal would be "reckless", as it would undermine the negotiating position on other trade talks, such as TTIP.
Mr Coveney told the Dáil he was concerned about the draft offer of 78,000 tonnes as part of the Mercosur deal, as were many other EU countries.
He said they had raised their concerns with both the Commissioner for Trade and with Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan.