Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Commission warned against making Mercosur concessions

Eleven states demand information on trade talks' bargaining terms

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan Picture: Collins
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan Picture: Collins
Thomas Cooney

Sarah Collins

Several EU countries, including Ireland, have raised a red flag over ongoing trade talks with the South American Mercosur bloc.

During a meeting of EU farm ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, 11 countries - Ireland, France, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - warned the Commission against making concessions to Mercosur on beef, sugar or other sensitive sectors without consulting them first.

The Commission has the power to negotiate trade deals on behalf of EU governments, but the 11 countries fear agriculture could be used as a bargaining chip for the EU to gain market access to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

"The sensitivity of trade negotiations for European and national parliamentarians and for civil society as a whole must encourage us to ensure that they can accept the balance of concessions and gains achieved, taking particular account of sensitive sectors," the countries said in the note.

They have asked the Commission to inform them of any offers made or received, and to hand over any negotiating texts exchanged between the two sides.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said Ireland supports trade liberalisation, and was eager for a deal to be concluded in the EU's negotiations with Japan for agricultural products.

However, they harbour "grave reservations" on the Mercosur negotiations and their potential impact on the European beef sector. He said the Commission's own impact assessment showed there was a great need for "caution" in the approach to beef tariff-rate quotas.

A further round of talks with the Mercosur delegation will take place in Brussels during the first week in July.

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Agricultural products - particularly beef - have been the most controversial subjects in the long-running trade talks between the two sides, which resumed last year after a 10-year freeze.

The EU discussed products, including wine and spirits, during a round of talks in Buenos Aires in March, though beef was not mentioned.

A Commission impact assessment published late last year said that beef farmers would be the biggest losers from a trade deal with Mercosur, with the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) estimating it could cost Ireland's beef producers up to €350m.

Last May, the Commission was stopped from offering Mercosur countries an EU quota of 78,000 tonnes of beef, which Ireland feared was too high and came too early in the talks.

EU agricultural commissioner Phil Hogan said at the time that beef was "off the menu", but the EU is keen to wind up the deal as soon as possible, and preferably by the end of the year.

The IFA said this week that the Commission should not enter into any negotiations on beef in light of the Brazilian rotten meat scandal and the looming threat of Brexit.

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