Farmers furious as EU trade deal delivers a 'massive blow'

Done deal: European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has concluded negotiations that have taken almost 20 years. Photo: ARIS OIKONOMOU/AFP/Getty Images
Done deal: European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has concluded negotiations that have taken almost 20 years. Photo: ARIS OIKONOMOU/AFP/Getty Images

Margaret Donnelly and Donal O'Donovan

Consumers could be in line for cheaper beef, fruit and coffee following a trade deal between the EU and a South American trading bloc - but farmers have branded it a "massive blow to the Irish beef sector".

The European Union and South American bloc Mercosur yesterday agreed a draft free-trade treaty, bringing to an end almost 20 years of negotiations.

'Sell out': Irish Farmers Association chief Joe Healy. Photo: Steve Humphreys
'Sell out': Irish Farmers Association chief Joe Healy. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The deal still faces huge hurdles, including pressure from farmers here and elsewhere in Europe, notably France, who will push their governments to veto an agreement that will mean a huge increase in low-cost South American beef allowed into the EU at a very low tariff, along with poultry, sugar and plant-based ethanol.

The deal will also eliminate tariffs on orange juice, instant coffee and fruit exports from Mercosur members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay and give greater access for meat, sugar and ethanol.

Europe has its eyes on industrial exports - especially cars - currently hit with tariffs of 35pc, and also on big EU firms being able to compete for public tenders in South America. Europe's biggest exports to Mercosur include machinery and chemical and pharmaceutical products.

Speaking after the announcement, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said that while as a small open economy Ireland was generally supportive of international trade deals, he was very concerned at its potential impact.

"I am very disappointed that this agreement includes a significant Tariff Rate Quota for South American beef, at a time when the sector in Europe is facing significant uncertainty because of Brexit," he said.

Environmental groups say it will accelerate destruction of the Amazon as land is cleared for farming, and are likely to focus their opposition through the European Parliament, where Green groups are increasingly powerful.

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Farm organisations are calling on the government to reject the agreement. IFA president Joe Healy said EU negotiators have colluded in a deal that has sold out Irish and European farmers. "This is a bad deal for Ireland and for Irish farmers, it's a bad deal for the environment and it's a bad deal for EU standards and consumers," he said, calling on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to make it clear to Brussels that Ireland will not ratify this deal.

Pat McCormack, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said it will "destroy forever" the EU's credibility on climate change.

The two sides began negotiations in 2000, but that intensified after President Donald Trump's victory prompted the EU to freeze talks with the US.It also accelerated free trade deals with Canada, Japan and Mexico.

Meanwhile, farmers were battered by weather, soaring input costs and price cuts in 2018, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office, which underline the pressures on farm incomes.

The final estimate of operating surplus in agriculture in 2018 shows an annual decrease of €576m (-16.8pc), down from €3,425.2m in 2017 to €2,849.2m.

The main reason for this change was an increase of €690m (13pc) in consumption costs on farms, following price pressure on feeding-stuffs and fertilisers.

Irish Independent


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