Taoiseach promises to protect beef farmers even if controversial EU-Mercosur deal is ratified

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels
Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Pool via REUTERS
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Pool via REUTERS

Hugh O'Connell

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

Mr Varadkar insisted last night that the government will not 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 that opens the door to some 99,000 tonnes of cheaper South American beef to be imported into the EU every year.

Speaking in Brussels tonight, 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.

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the government of "quietly acquiescing" to the deal, despite strong and vocal opposition from farming organisations and concerns over environmental standards in Brazilian beef farming.

The EU is already Mercosur’s largest trading partner and under the deal, if ratified by all member states, there will be more open markets between the two blocs. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The EU is already Mercosur’s largest trading partner and under the deal, if ratified by all member states, there will be more open markets between the two blocs. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Mr Varadkar has not ruled out ultimately backing the deal if it is in Ireland's interests even though its announcement at the weekend sparked uproar among farming organisations who estimate that it could cost the beef industry hundreds of millions of euro in lost revenue annually.

But the Taoiseach said tonight that whether or not Ireland can block the deal it would insist, along with other countries, on measures to mitigate any impact on Irish beef farmers

"Whatever happens, whether it goes through or not I want to make sure that the interests of our beef farmers are protected and that means things like insisting that the food safety and the traceability standards are at a European level for any South American beef coming into Europe," he said.

"It means insisting that this is linked to South American countries honouring their climate change obligations under Paris and also insisting that there is compensation for farmers as well perhaps by opening up other markets to them for example in Mexico, in Korea in Canada, in China, in Japan to counterbalance anything that may be lost as a consequence of this. There the kind of things I'll be insisting on and I am sure others like France and Poland will too."

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