Varadkar promises to protect beef farmers

Hugh O'Connell and John Downing

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised to protect the interests of Irish beef farmers even if the controversial EU-Mercosur deal is ratified.

Mr Varadkar insisted last night that the Government won't back the trade deal if it is not in the country's interests.

The Government is to carry out an economic assessment of the trade deal, which opens the door to some 99,000 tonnes of cheaper South American beef to be imported into the EU every year.

Speaking in Brussels last night, Mr Varadkar said: "Ireland will not back it if it's not in our interest. You can have that absolute guarantee.

"What we have at the moment is the political agreement between the EU and the Mercosur around a trade deal. It will be two years before we see the legal text and before we vote on this."

Earlier, the Dáil was told that the Mercosur deal will signal the death knell for the Irish beef sector.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the landmark deal with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay will reward "climate change deniers".

Mr Martin said the Government had quietly caved on the deal, which allows imports of 99,000 tonnes of beef, 180,000 tonnes of poultry and 25,000 tonnes of pigmeat.

The Fianna Fáil leader said a hectare of rainforest in Brazil was being cleared every minute to create grazing land for cattle. That "should be a showstopper", he said.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed insisted it was not yet a done deal, and said the agreement had a "considerable distance to travel" before it could be fully ratified.

Irish Independent