Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has warned of the momentum building in Europe behind a Mercosur trade deal which is now “a top challenge” for the Department of Agriculture.
“If there is one issue that I think is a really significant challenge at the moment that is Mercosur. There is no point in sugar coating this. It is a real battle for us to hold at bay the momentum that is building for a Mercosur trade deal,” Minister Creed told the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) AGM in Abbeyleix, Co Laois last night.
“Be aware, there are very significant interests in Europe within other member states, large member states in particular, who see opportunities in the context of Mercusor,” he remarked.
Minister Creed said he had spoken to Commissioner Phil Hogan in relation to the matter on Wednesday. The deal could open the door for South American beef to the European market. Minister Creed said in many ways “it flies in the face of logic that the commission itself is the author” as the commission had carried out a study on the cumulative impact of current agreements and identified beef as a product that would be sensitive to future agreements.
Noting beef consumption in Europe is “static or marginally increasing,” Minister Creed said the move towards this deal was coming at a time when 250,000t of beef that Ireland exports to Europe has an uncertain future.
“There are strong arguments to be made for pressing the pause button on Mercusor,” he told the meeting.
Minister Creed said Ireland had reduced its exports to the UK from 40pc down to 35pc. “I think that is strategically wise,” he told the gathering.
“At the moment it is approximately a third to the UK, a third to other member states in the European Union and a third to the international markets outside the European Union,” he explained.
“That’s not to say we are turning out back on the UK market, we won’t. Hopefully it will continue to be because it is the market we understand most and it’s the market that returns the best price to us." While UK exports were down, he said the international markets outside the European Union are "up significantly, over €4 billion for the fist time."
Minister Creed said "in the context of Brexit where nothing is guaranteed, it is important to kind of strategically spread the risk."