Beef lobby ramps up pressure on Mercosur

Minister Michael Creed
Minister Michael Creed
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

The Irish government will not block any future trade deal between the EU and Mercosur, despite intense lobbying by the farm organisations and meat processors.

The IFA and meat processors have written to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urging the Government to take action "at the highest level in the EU Commission" and with other member states to limit concessions on the level of South American beef imports.

However, the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, told the Dáil that unilaterally halting progress towards a possible trade deal with Mercosur risked isolating the country.

Hinting at the strong support that Ireland has received from Europe on Brexit, Minister Creed said stalling the talks' process would be "inappropriate", although he accepted that Ireland's beef industry was "particularly exposed" to a Mercosur deal.

"At a time when we are seeking solidarity across the European Union on a range of issues…it would be inappropriate that we would stand alone in this case, when no deal has been concluded, and isolate ourselves," Minister Creed told the Dáil.

The minister was responding to questions from Fianna Fáil's Charlie McConalogue who said there was an absence of "fairness" in the trade agreement proposals to date. He also accused the Government of "rolling over" by allowing the EU Commission to offer tariff-free access for an additional 70,000 tonnes of South American beef.

Deputy McConalogue said EU beef prices would take a "massive hit" as a result of this concession. The Fianna Fáil TD maintained that the EU-Mercosur trade package having to be ratified by national parliaments across Europe provided an opportunity for Minister Creed to take a tougher line on the talks.

"That any deal will have to come back to national parliaments for ratification should surely strengthen the minister's hand in pushing back and trying to fight for Irish farmers," Deputy McConalogue said.

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But Minister Creed pointed out that Ireland was just one party to any future agreement, and that there would be positives and negatives in any package.

'Two-way street'

"We will continue to press our case, but we also recognise that trade is a two-way street. In certain areas of Mercosur we see opportunities, particularly in the dairy sector. However, we feel particularly exposed in the beef sector, but we will continue to try to negotiate the best possible deal," he said.

The latest round of negotiations between the EU and Mercosur - which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay - kicked off in Uruguayan capital Montevideo yesterday.

With progress believed to have been made on issues relating to access for EU-manufactured cars and car parts to the South American market, the IFA and Meat Industry Ireland (MII) cautioned that a deal could be concluded this summer.

In their letter to the Taoiseach, the IFA and MII warned that EU beef farmers and processors would "unfairly" pay for access by other sectors to South American markets, and that Ireland would face the "most severe negative implications" because of its 90pc export dependency.

Reports of tariff-free access for greater volumes of South American beef, in excess of the additional 70,000 tonnes already offered, were described by IFA and MII as "simply unacceptable".

The IFA and MII also pointed out that these additional tonnages of South American beef could be targeted at the lucrative European steak cuts market because the EU negotiators gave ground on the use of sub-quotas within the overall trade offer.

But Government may be willing to concede ground on South American imports

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