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Thursday 22 February 2018

Beef back on the agenda as EU seeks to close Mercosur deal

REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

Sarah Collins

Beef will be back on the menu this October as the EU seeks to finalise a trade deal with the South American Mercosur bloc.

The European Commission will offer Mercosur new beef import quotas at reduced tariff rates during a formal round of trade talks in the first week of October in Brussels, EU sources confirmed.

It is hoped the quota will be significantly lower than the 78,000 tonnes mooted in May last year, which had to be pulled after protests from Ireland and numerous EU countries.

The size of the quota will depend on whether the four countries taking part in the talks - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - are willing to open up public tenders to European companies and liberalise the trade in retail, IT and financial services.

Agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan has repeatedly warned Mercosur to "moderate their expectations" on beef, particularly after a 2016 EU impact assessment showed that beef farmers were set to be the biggest losers under new trade deals.

Quotas will also be on offer for ethanol in October, sources said. Ethanol and beef are the two most sensitive topics in the negotiations and were kept back until the final stages. The EU hopes to finalise a deal this year to open up the South American market to European cars, chemicals and alcoholic beverages, where tariffs are particularly high.

IFA President Joe Healy
IFA President Joe Healy

The Commission has been buoyed by a recent deal with Japan, which it has called the most lucrative deal for European beef and dairy producers in EU history.

But the Mercosur beef offer will come just as the bloc is laying the ground for a post-Brexit trade relationship with the UK, which is set to have a major impact on Irish agri-food producers.

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"The stark reality is that without the UK market, the EU beef sector will become 116pc self-sufficient and there is simply no room for any additional beef imports," said Irish Farmers' Association president Joe Healy, calling for beef to be excluded from the Mercosur negotiations.

Mr Healy also said Brazil, where a recent meat fraud scandal was uncovered, and other Mercosur countries "fail to meet EU standards on the key requirements of traceability, food safety, animal health and welfare controls and environmental standards".

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said the deal would "sacrifice agriculture" and that "Irish interests are not being served" in the negotiations, adding: "These trade deals, in conjunction with the challenges posed by Brexit, mean that the fabric of the Irish family farm model is under threat like never before."


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