Beef supports could be squeezed out by EU's budget crunch

Clare farmer Seamus O'Grady at the IFA beef protest in City Hall, Cork last week
Clare farmer Seamus O'Grady at the IFA beef protest in City Hall, Cork last week

Sarah Collins

EU election season has kicked off, with climate change and the EU's post-Brexit future looming large in the campaign.

The election is likely to see a major shift in the European Parliament's power balance, with smaller and Eurosceptic groups expected to gain at the expense of the main political groups.

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The Brexit extension also means that UK MEPs are likely to be elected and actually take their seats when the new parliament sits in July. ­Ireland's incumbent parliamentarians, including Fine Gael MEPs Seán Kelly and Mairead McGuinness, and Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy, Lynn Boylan and Liadh Ní Riada, are running on a strong agriculture ticket, specifically, a well-funded Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

But they will be battling against their European colleagues, many of whom favour more money for defence and new revenues in the form of EU-wide carbon and corporate taxes.

The debates come as Irish beef farmers are fighting for emergency Brexit supports, after suffering losses of €100m, according to the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA).

European elections will be "judgement day" for the Government and the Commission, said IFA president Joe Healy, accusing them of "standing idly by" while beef farmers falter.

Although France is also arguing for a well-funded CAP, it's unclear whether the demands from beef farmers can be met, given the EU's budget crunch. Some electoral candidates - notably, the European Green co-chair Ska Keller -are also arguing in favour of a more plant-based diet. She is her party's lead candidate for European Commission president, a race that is being run alongside the parliamentary election.

They are also keen to see future trade deals include climate conditions linked to the Paris Agreement.

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Business Europe, which represents European industry, has called for similar trade protections for companies which, it says, face competition from less-regulated jurisdictions.

The group wants the EU to go "climate neutral" by 2050, that is to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (when balanced against afforestation and other carbon removal measures).

A UN report on biodiversity, due out this week, criticises the growing demand for meat, biofuels, soy and palm oil, in particular - including for animal feed - and warns of further deforestation and species extinction.


Agri off the agenda as US trade talks resume

THE EU began the latest round of trade talks with the US yesterday just after it settled a long-running dispute over the Canada deal.

The bloc’s top court said last week that a controversial measure in the EU-Canada trade deal — a system of investment courts to resolve disputes between companies and governments — could go ahead.

Belgium challenged the legality of the courts in 2017, though the EU-Canada deal was able to enter into force provisionally, and has since increased Belgian exports to Canada by more than 30pc, according to the ministry for foreign affairs.

US talks will be more limited, with agriculture being left out of the negotiations.

EU governments have agreed to focus on regulatory cooperation and industrial tariffs, and have already implemented a pledge to boost imports of US soy beans and natural gas.

According to analysis by Stratfor, the EU farming sector “retains enough political influence, particularly in France, to remain more of a hurdle in negotiations”.

But, the analysts say, disagreements over non-tariff trade barriers such as genetically modified organisms, could also obstruct discussions.

 “In the end, agriculture might be enough of a sticking point that it could scuttle a larger deal between the United States and the European Union,” the report says.

EU agriculture ministers reunite on May 14 for their final meeting before the European elections, where they will likely get an update on ongoing trade negotiations and discuss the future of the Common Agricultural Policy.

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