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Independent.ie

Thursday 23 November 2017

Irish farmers will 'feel brunt' of EU's Mercosur deal 'sell-out'

Photo Brian Farrell
Photo Brian Farrell

The EU's expected offer of a further 70,000t beef quota to South American beef farmers as part of the trade deal with Mercosur has been slammed by the farm organisations and processing sector.

The IFA and ICSA claimed the deal represented a "sell out" of beef farmers and a possible hammer blow to incomes in the sector.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said the move added to the uncertainty around Brexit and described the Commission's decision as "completely unacceptable".

The trade talks between the EU Commission and Mercosur -which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay - have stalled in recent weeks over the failure of Europe to make concessions on access for the South American trade bloc's beef and ethanol exports.

However, both sides have committed to agreeing a trade deal by Christmas, and the Commission's move on beef is an effort to give the negotiations some momentum. But the decision has been roundly criticised.

"This amounts to a complete sell out of beef farmers across Europe, with the likelihood that Irish farmers will feel the brunt," said ICSA president Patrick Kent.

"The Mercosur countries have failed to meet EU standards on the fundamental issues of food safety and traceability.

"EU beef farmers have endeavoured over many years to ensure the very highest standards are met at every stage of production. Agreeing to allow more and more inferior quality beef into Europe simply cannot be justified."

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IFA president Joe Healy said it was a major mistake for the EU Commission to make a 70,000t offer.

"It is incredible that despite strong objections from 11 EU member states, led by Ireland and France, the EU Commission are hell-bent on making additional concessions to the Brazilians and other Latin American countries at a very high cost to Irish and European beef farmers," Mr Healy said, with the IFA due to hold a protest at 11.30am tomorrow outside the EU offices on Mount Street in Dublin to highlight concerns.

Cormac Healy of MII said it was completely unacceptable for the EU to give further concessions on Mercosur beef access to the European market.

"The revised offer of 70,000t of additional beef access is grossly excessive and is clear evidence of the EU beef sector being sacrificed for the sake of this deal," Mr Healy said.

He pointed out that Ireland, as the largest net exporter of beef in the EU, will be most exposed to the decision.

Sacrificing

"While the European Commission may argue the overall benefits to the wider EU economy from the proposed EU-Mercosur trade deal, it is sacrificing the EU beef sector in the process and ignoring its own Impact Assessment which highlighted the potential damage to our sector," Mr Healy maintained.

It is understood that the expected 70,000t quota offer will include 35,000t of fresh beef and 35,000t of frozen product. It is expected that the 35,000t of fresh beef will target the EU's lucrative steak cuts market, with the frozen product aimed at the manufacturing beef sector.

Industry sources argue that all of the 70,000t quota will be taken up by the South American processors since their beef prices of €2.60-2.75/kg are just 70pc of the EU average and well below the €3.80/kg paid to Irish farmers. Last year Mercosur exported 240,000t of beef into the EU, which represented 75pc of all beef imports.

Commenting on the Commission's offer, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the Irish beef industry had to be "taken care of" in any Mercosur deal.

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