EU will not up beef offer to Mercosur, says Hogan

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: Reuters
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: Reuters

The EU will not be upping its beef offer in this week's round of trade talks with the South American Mercosur bloc.

European Commission agriculture chief Phil Hogan was speaking ahead of the current round of negotiations, and said it was up to Mercosur to make concessions or risk scuppering a deal by an end of year deadline.

"In the negotiations that are ongoing […], we do not intend to increase our beef offer," Mr Hogan said. "The negotiations will either succeed or fail based on the response of the Mercosur countries to the European offer."

The EU wants to open up the Mercosur market to its cars, chemicals, IT and retail services, allow EU companies access to public tenders and boost sales of its alcohol and dairy products.

"There are many, many issues on the table that have not been resolved to the satisfaction of the EU," Mr Hogan said.

Early in October the EU made its first formal offer on beef since restarting trade talks last year, offering to reduce tariffs on 70,000 tonnes of beef from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Ireland and France, backed by up to 12 other countries, led a charge against the offer, saying it would cripple the bloc's beef sector at a time when consumption is down and trade with the UK - a major meat importer - is threatened by Brexit.

But the four Mercosur countries officially negotiating with the EU said the October offer was too low. A recent meat fraud scandal in Brazil has also frayed tempers, with EU farmers complaining that South American produce is inferior and cheaper to produce because of lower standards.

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The European Commission -particularly trade chief Cecilia Malmström and president Jean-Claude Juncker - wants to get a deal over the line by the end of the year.

Both sides feel the window for a deal will soon close, with elections in Brazil due next year.

The Irish Farmers' Association, backed by its European umbrella group Copa and Cogeca, has stepped up its lobbying efforts against a deal.

Copa bosses have also hit out at sugar and ethanol offers due to be tabled.

IFA boss Joe Healy, who was in Brussels for a series of meetings last week, said there was a lot of "bad blood" between the Commission and EU countries on the issue.

"I'm surprised, from an animal welfare point of view and from a slave labour point of view, that Malmström is championing the cause for the Mercosur deal," Mr Healy told the Farming Independent. "She has accepted to use beef as a sacrificial lamb."

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