Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Sector faces Mercosur deal fight

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

John Bryan returned to familiar territory this week -- battling to keep Brazilian beef imports into the EU to a minimum.

It is obviously too early to say if the Kilkenny man will be on the winning side this time around.

Sources in Brussels say that efforts to secure a trade deal with Mercosur -- which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay -- have been carefully manoeuvred.

Indeed, the backing of the European Parliament has been secured for the trade talks process, even though opposition to the initiative within MEP ranks is strong.

A spokesman for Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said that he is keeping a close eye on proceedings. However, it is clear that this move has strong backing.

Cultural and existing trade links mean the talks are supported by Portugal and Spain, and it is no surprise the summit meeting of EU and Mercosur heads is taking place under the Spanish presidency.

Given that Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has rowed in behind the talks and it is obvious Brussels is intent on securing a deal. The benefits, in terms of increased trade, mean it will be difficult to halt the process. The Commission estimates that a trade agreementl could drive annual EU exports into Mercosur by up to €4.5bn.

The worry for Irish farmers is that Mercosur is expected to benefit to a similar extent, and exports into the EU are likely to come in the form of increased beef and poultry sales. Although beef exports from Brazil and Argentina are well back on previous years, Meat Industry Ireland has correctly pointed out that the lucrative EU steak cuts market remains vulnerable to imports.

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This market takes around 700,000t of beef each year. Were the South Americans to target this high-end element of the trade, then the implications of an even modest increase in import quotas for Mercosur beef could be severe.

A concerted campaign on the part of Government and farm organisations is needed to prevent this happening.

Irish Independent