Fears of beef industry sell-out grow as EU pushes for South America trade deal
Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has been urged to force a rethink on the "sell-out" of beef farmers amid moves to close a trade deal with the South American Mercosur countries.
Concerns have been raised after sources close to the high-level talks say the EU raised the potential for access of beef to the bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay from 77,000 tonnes up to 99,000 tonnes.
In return, the EU is eager to secure more trade access for cars, dairy and maritime services among other items, with pressure mounting to secure a deal ahead of March elections. However, Cormac Healy from Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents meat processors, said the European Commission has been stating that the trade deal would be a positive one overall for the EU.
"How far are they willing to go in terms of further sacrificing the beef sector to what they say is a positive deal?" he said. "Why have we now seen again another 30,000 tonnes of access added."
Mercosur already supplies 75pc of EU beef imports.
"We can't stand in the way of an overall trade deal but we want a balanced approach," said Mr Healy. He warned the market for prime beef cuts in Europe stood at just 800,000 tonnes and it could be extremely detrimental.
The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) livestock chairman Angus Woods said the break in talks until Friday was a chance for Mr Hogan to face down Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and force a rethink.
"The negotiating strategy flies in the face of everything that the EU stands for, and what is happening in terms of Brexit," he said, adding it undermines European policy on the environment and animal welfare and risks Ireland's valuable beef trade worth €2.5bn.
European farmer body Copa and Cogeca warned the move to raise the beef quotas was unacceptable after a 2016 EU impact assessment shows the beef sector will be the biggest loser in future trade deals.
However, a source close to the discussions has described them as "constructive talks" and insisted no offer was tabled by the EU during the meeting.
"At this stage, for the negotiations to move on, both sides should make an effort to meet each other's expectations, while recognising each other's sensitivities," the source said. It is understood the EU had signalled its willingness to make an effort on the issues that are important for the Mercosur region, with Brazil eager for the beef quotas to be increased.