Sunday 21 July 2019

Creed backs Hogan and casts doubt on EU trade deal

Under-fire commissioner thrown lifeline as minister seeks to halt Mercosur agreement

Michael Creed. Picture: Damien Eagers
Michael Creed. Picture: Damien Eagers
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has defended European Commissioner Phil Hogan's role in the Mercosur trade agreement as he moved to blame Fianna Fail's European group for a deal that threatens Irish beef exports.

The minister cast doubts on the likelihood of the deal being approved by European member states and institutions.

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Government officials have also expressed private reservations that the deal may never come to fruition, citing challenges in dealing with four South American countries and changes to the political landscape, such as Brexit, as potential stumbling blocks.

"This might never happen because you are talking about a trade deal being agreed here over the next few years when things could change massively. That brings with it its own challenges," a source told the Sunday Independent.

"The fact that the terms will have to be agreed with four countries in South America as well as EU member states must be considered, as must the fact it took 20 years the get this far."

Mr Creed insisted the Government would work to protect farmers' interests.

Thwarting the deal "is my ambition", he told RTE's Countrywide yesterday.

"What we now have is a proposed agreement between the outgoing Commission and the Mercosur countries.

"It has not been endorsed by the European Parliament, by the Council of Ministers or indeed by any national parliament.

"Anybody who has signed a contract ever, whether it is buying a house or anything, will know it is one thing to purchase a property. It is quite another thing to sign the ultimate contract.

"The bones of this agreement will be given detail and we can influence that."

Mr Creed has previously expressed his disappointment at the deal struck between the EU Commission and the Mercosur states of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay that would see 99,000 tonnes of South American beef allowed into the European market every year.

In return, tariffs will be relaxed for European exporters of cars, confectionery, wines, spirits and soft drinks.

The deal has led to doubts being raised about Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan's expected reappointment next November.

However, Mr Creed defended Commissioner Hogan's track record and said any of his colleagues who hold reservations about Mr Hogan's role in the Mercosur deal should take time to "reflect".

"This was a deal that was negotiated by the Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom who, bearing in mind where some of the criticism comes from, is part of the Fianna Fail family in Europe," Mr Creed said.

Ms Malmstrom is a member of Sweden's Liberals Party, which is part of the ALDE European grouping with Fianna Fail.

Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fail's agriculture spokesman, previously labelled the Mercosur deal a "disaster" and "catastrophic" for Irish farmers.

Mr Creed said he would support Mr Hogan being returned for a second term as Ireland's European Commissioner.

"I ask the question, who would people prefer to have around the Commission table, particularly in agriculture at the present time? Somebody who understands the deal.

"I would have been in daily and certainly weekly contact with the commissioner on a whole range of issues, including this, and he has been exceptionally helpful.

"If beef was excluded I would be at the front of the queue and clapping this agreement," Mr Creed said.

"We are particularly exposed here and sitting on our hands while this debate is raging is not an option."

Meanwhile, Mr Creed also put pressure on the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB) to respond to concerns about the welfare of dogs within the next 12 months.

He said the IGB will be expected to make improvements using the new Greyhound Racing Act signed into law this year which gives it enhanced powers to make regulations for the traceability of greyhounds.

The industry received €16.8m in Government funding this year but has been the subject of controversy after it was revealed almost 6,000 under-performing greyhounds are being killed in Ireland every year.

"Our funding will come with terms and conditions attached and will have a very significant refocusing in terms of prioritising welfare issues," Mr Creed said.

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