Key trade negotiators are aiming for a WTO deal by Easter -- and the deal being proposed has the potential to devastate Irish agriculture and beef in particular.
The top rate cut in import tariffs has now gone from 60pc to 66-73pc, far worse than the limits of Mandelson's mandate. Tariff cuts of this magnitude would halve cattle prices instantly to 1.60/kg (below 60p/lb). On top of this, proposed change to the 'sensitive product' status, it's suggested that only a maximum of 6pc of all products be eligible.
Beef is set to be classed as a sensitive product so this would hit the trade further.
The latest move for a deal is understood to be coming from the US. President Bush, who is due to leave office in November, is apparently keen to leave a legacy behind him -- ( as if the war in Iraq isn't enough) -- and he wants a deal on WTO to be brokered under his watch.
Over the past few weeks, there have been some sneaky movements behind the scenes between US trade representative Susan Schwab, EU trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and WTO chief Pascal Lamy to agree a deal.
To her credit, Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan has been highlighting this and attempting to gain support from her European counterparts to block their movements.
Unfortunately, the political will for a good deal for farming is waning in a number of EU countries with France and Poland our strongest allies at present.
Commentators in favour of a quick resolution believe that a trade deal would inject much-needed confidence into a troubled world economy -- a line being adopted all too readily by many quarters who seem intent on sacrificing agriculture in this round of the talks.
The Doha round of talks, launched in late 2001, has been deadlocked for years. Sealing this elusive global trade deal for the sake of Bush's vanity is ludicrous.
If Irish agriculture is to have any future, every effort must be made to block the current deal that's on the table.