Concerns growing that the EU may up its Mercosur beef offer to 130,000t

REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Concerns are growing over a potential Mercosur deal, amid suggestions the European Commission may revise it's beef offer up to 130,000 tonnes.

Last month, the European Commission offered Mercosur countries - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - reduced tariffs on 70,000 tonnes worth of beef.

The new offer is likely to be well in excess of that, after the four countries complained it was too low, but a group of 14 EU countries - including Ireland and France - is fighting back, saying a flood of cheap imports will cripple beef farmers, especially with Brexit on the horizon.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) director Cormac Healy described it as a cavalier approach in the face of the damage it will do to the EU and Irish beef sectors.

"Suggestions of further concessions on beef market access and an increase of the current EU beef offer beyond 70,000 tonnes are completely unacceptable," he said.

 "Given the huge uncertainty associated with Brexit and its potential impact on the EU beef market, now is not the time for a deal with Mercosur countries."

He said the Mercosur countries already account for the vast majority of EU beef imports. Mr Healy pointed out most of these countries have recently objected to the EU and UK proposed splitting of existing import quotas in the context of Brexit.

EU farming federation Copa and Cogeca hit out at the rumoured offer last week, saying Mercosur countries are not meeting EU traceability, antibiotics or climate standards.

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The EU's October offer also included an ethanol import quota of 600,000 tonnes. There has been no offer tabled on sugar since the previously stalled Mercosur talks were restarted in 2016.

"It is absurd that the EU should make substantial concessions on beef, sugar and ethanol when the EU market is not lacking agricultural commodities and we do not know the outcome of the Brexit talks," Copa and Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said.

"We are back to doing trade agreements in an old-fashioned way by making trade-off between other EU economic sectors and the agricultural commodities sector."

At a previous round of negotiations in Brasilia earlier this month, EU negotiators said they made "substantive progress" in all areas, including plant and animal health standards.

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