'We aspire to 5% of the European beef market' - Argentines demand much bigger EU beef quota

Photo Brian Farrell
Photo Brian Farrell
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

One of Argentina’s biggest farm groups said Friday that South America’s Mercosur should be able to export 400,000 tonnes of beef a year to the European Union under a free-trade deal the two blocs are negotiating - more than five times the EU’s offer.

Luis Etchevehere, the head of the Argentine Rural Society (SRA), called the EU’s proposal to lower tariffs on 70,000 tonnes of beef per year from Mercosur nations as “absurdly insufficient.”

“We aspire to 5pc of the European beef market, which is about 8 million tonnes. That is, we want...400,000 tonnes,” Etchevehere told Reuters on the sidelines of a business event.

The EU and Mercosur - made up of the beef-producing South American nations Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - had been aiming to reach a trade agreement by the end of the year.

But Brazil’s chief negotiator said earlier this month that the EU’s offer on access to its beef and ethanol markets was far from what Mercosur expected and would make that timeframe difficult.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently insisted Ireland will not ratify a trade deal which damages Irish farming and food processing.

Mr Varadkar also hit back at Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams on the issue – accusing his party of having things both ways on EU issues.

The Taosieach was speaking in the Dáil as farmers took to the Dublin streets to demonstrate against an EU offer to buy 70,000 tonnes of beef as part of a trade deal now under negotiation with South American states.

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The farmers warn that farm and meat processing standards in countries like Brazil and Argentina are far below those in the EU, allowing the imports to unfairly undercut home produce.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the deal with South America’s so-called Mercosur states added to the economic threat from Brexit.

“All the main farming organisations across this island are rightly opposed to this move,” Mr Adams said. He said beef and poultry should be taken out of the Mercosur negotiations.

The Taoiseach agreed that there were concerns about Ireland and the EU’s high standards on animal welfare, health and food processing. He said Ireland may not give the necessary ratification to the Mercosur deal if this country’s interests were not respected.

“But we need to bear in mind, though, that free trade deals are free trade deals. They are not just for any one sector,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach added that Sinn Féin remained “ambiguous about the European Union” – despite strident statements on Brexit. He said the EU was ultimately a free-trad bloc and Ireland had benefitted from this.

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