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EU offers more access for South American beef in bid to seal trade deal

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A sign reading "Mercosur = a gift to multinationals" is pictured on a tractor during a protest by Belgian farmers outside a meeting of European Union agriculture ministers in Brussels on January 29. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

A sign reading "Mercosur = a gift to multinationals" is pictured on a tractor during a protest by Belgian farmers outside a meeting of European Union agriculture ministers in Brussels on January 29. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

REUTERS

A sign reading "Mercosur = a gift to multinationals" is pictured on a tractor during a protest by Belgian farmers outside a meeting of European Union agriculture ministers in Brussels on January 29. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The European Union has offered to open its markets to more beef from Latin American bloc Mercosur to try to conclude negotiations for what could be its most lucrative trade deal to date.

Ministers from the Mercosur countries Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay met EU trade and agriculture commissioners in Brussels yesterday (Tuesday) to see how to drive forward negotiations stuck on the issue of beef.

The EU has raised its offer for beef access to 99,000t per year from a previous 70,000t, people close to the talks said on Wednesday, though it was not clear how much would be more expensive chilled meat and if it would be tariff-free.

The EU hopes an improved offer will encourage Mercosur to open its markets to cars and EU dairy produce more rapidly and allow EU companies to bid in public tenders.

The European Commission, which negotiates trade deals on behalf of EU countries, described Tuesday’s talks as “constructive” and said chief negotiators would meet on Friday to push discussions on.

Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen told a news conference that negotiations had entered the “end game” and said he was optimistic a deal would be struck.

“Yesterday things moved forward and now we expect Mercosur to come back and give their view on how we could finalise negotiations,” he said, adding both sides recognized a deal was politically and economically very important.

“It’s always very, very difficult but if the political will is strong, as it is at the moment, I‘m sure that we can get this exercise to the goal.”

In terms of tariff reduction, it could be the EU’s most lucrative trade deal to date, with the savings potentially three times greater than for deals with Canada and Japan combined.

EU farming nations including Ireland and France, however, are worried their farmers will lose out and expressed concern when the initial offer of 70,000t was put forward in October.

Speaking from the EU Mercosur trade negotiations in Brussels, IFA National Livestock Chairman Angus Woods said he is extremely worried that Europe, led by Trade Commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom, will concede more to the Brazilians on beef.

He said “All the the key politicians are here locked in a room in Brussels haggling over the details of a possible deal. Commissioner Malmstrom is prepared to sacrifice more on beef to get more for big business and the automobile sector, with big companies like Volvo from Sweden benefiting”.

Angus Woods accused Commissioner Malmstrom of favouring big business over citizens and abandoning the European principle of a ‘Union of Equals’. He said it is a scandal that an EU Commissioner is allowed to bulldoze her way on trade to satisfy big business over the interests of EU citizens.

He called on the Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and EU Commissioner Phil Hogan to stand up to Trade Commissioner Malmstrom against her sellout to the Brazilians on beef in the negotiations.

“Commissioner Malmstrom has already conceded way too much in the giveaway of an additional 70,000t of EU beef market access. Now the Brazilians want more. Ireland and Commissioner Hogan need to say bluntly: enough is enough.”

The IFA Livestock Leader accused the EU Trade Commissioner of blatantly undermining European policy and values on the environment and animal welfare. “There is a clear contradiction at EU level. One arm of the Commission is prepared to do this deal and undermine the environment and animal welfare, while European farmers are asked to play their part on climate change and maintain the highest welfare standards.”

Additional reporting Reuters

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