'Catastrophic' agreement a huge threat to Irish farmers

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

The Government is coming under pressure to oppose a new EU trade deal which would cut food prices for consumers but have potentially disastrous implications for Irish farmers.

Fianna Fail has called on the Government to protect farmers' interests, saying Europe's deal with the South American Mercosur trading bloc would prove "catastrophic".

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Under the deal, tariffs would be eliminated on orange juice, instant coffee and fruit exports from South America. However, charges imposed on beef and other meat products from South America would also be reduced and increased amounts allowed into the EU.

There are concerns this will leave Irish farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has expressed concerns about the impact this would have on the Irish beef sector, which is already hit by Brexit uncertainty.

Fianna Fail's agriculture spokesman Charlie McConalogue called on the Government to veto the agreement.

He painted a bleak picture for the future of Ireland's beef sector if the deal is ratified and the sector is left at the mercy of a hard Brexit.

"This deal will see 99,000 tonnes of South American beef allowed into the European market every year. This will have a huge impact on prices, at a time when beef farmers here are already to the pin of their collars," Mr McConalogue said.

"We export around 270,000 tonnes of beef to the UK every year - will our farmers now have to compete with cheap South American imports in a post-Brexit scenario? The deal has always had the potential to damage Irish farming but, combined with the possible loss of trade in the British market as a result of Brexit, Mercosur could prove catastrophic."

"This is an exceptionally volatile period and I believe the EU should not take any decisions on this deal until the full post-Brexit scenario is known."

The EU-Mercosur agreement will remove the majority of tariffs on exports to the South American member states, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The EU said it will make European companies more competitive abroad and save up to €4bn in duties annually, but it has been criticised by the Irish Farmers' Association and other farm groups here.

The big gain for the EU will be on the exporting of cars, which previously faced 35pc tariffs. Charges on chocolates and confectionery (20pc), wines (27pc), spirits (20pc to 35pc), and soft drinks (20pc to 35pc) will also be slashed.

The deal has been welcomed by EU Commissioner Phil Hogan. He conceded farmers will face challenges and the European Commission will have to support vulnerable sectors. "The EU-Mercosur agreement is a fair and balanced deal with opportunities and benefits on both sides, including for Europe's farmers," he said.

"For this agreement to be a win-win, we will only open up to agricultural products from Mercosur with carefully managed quotas that will ensure there is no risk that any product will flood the EU market and thereby threaten the livelihood of EU farmers."

There are also environmental concerns about surrounding the deal. Mr McConalogue said: "It seems ironic that on the one hand the Government and EU talk about reducing our carbon footprint to mitigate climate change, while on the other they have no issue with flying South American beef thousands of kilometres into Europe."

Sunday Independent