Farm Ireland

Friday 20 July 2018

South American deal and Brexit 'disastrous' for Irish beef farmers

Stock Image: PA
Stock Image: PA
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Concessions in trade talks to allow a larger influx of South American meat products into Europe would have "disastrous consequences" for the Irish beef industry on top of the "massive uncertainty" over Brexit.

The warning was made to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as talks continue between Brussels and the 'Mercosur countries' of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay on a free trade deal.

The ongoing negotiations come amid fears the Irish agri-food industry will bear the brunt of a hard Brexit.

The Cabinet's Brexit sub-committee will tonight discuss a stark impact study which estimates as many as 12,400 job losses in the sector under one scenario.

Correspondence released to the Irish Independent shows that Meat Industry Ireland (MII) wrote to Mr Varadkar at the end of November outlining the two-prong threat of Mercosur and Brexit.

Chairman Phillip Carroll stressed MII's strong objection to further concession on beef access to the EU beyond "an already excessive quota of 70,000 tonnes".

He argued it isn't the time for an EU-Mercosur trade deal that would result in extra beef imports into Europe given the "massive uncertainty created by Brexit and the clear negative implications of the UK exit from the EU for the Irish beef sector".

He said the beef industry is "the most exposed to Brexit fallout" and Ireland, as the largest exporter of beef to the European market, would be worst hit by an increased volume of South American beef entering the EU.

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Mr Carroll said MII was calling on the Government to ensure that further concessions on beef imports are not made by the European Commission as this would have "disastrous consequences" for the Irish cattle and beef sector.

Last night, MII director Cormac Healy said the Mercosur deal and Brexit amount to a "double whammy" in their potential impact on the meat industry.

He urged the Government to continue to highlight Irish concerns at European level.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the Government remains committed to a "balanced trade deal" with the Mercosur countries.

Any deal needs to take account of "key concerns" such as those of Ireland relating to beef. "70,000 tonnes of beef represents a fair and reasonable proposition," he added.

He said Mr Varadkar has made this position clear with the Argentinian president and European Commission in discussions in recent weeks.

Ministers will today discuss a separate Brexit impact study carried out by consultants Copenhagen Economics. The report warns that overall 20,000 jobs could be lost across five different sectors in the case of a hard Brexit.

Business Minister Heather Humphreys has said the Government is "acutely aware" of the exposure of some industries to Brexit.

She said 40pc of low interest loans to be made available under a €300m Brexit scheme will be for the agri-food sector.

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