Margaret Donnelly: 'Timing of this deal couldn't be worse for agriculture'
The timing of this trade deal couldn't be worse for Irish farmers.
Opening the market to potentially 99,000 tonnes of beef from South America could be a killer blow to the agriculture industry which already faces the dark clouds of Brexit, stalled EU-US talks and a carbon emissions reduction target on the horizon.
The deal ultimately opens the door to fresh and frozen beef entering the EU with a low tariff rate - meaning there will be a lot more cheaper meat products competing with Irish beef on the shelves.
Undeniably, any agreement on free trade has benefits for certain sectors. European businesses will now have access to notoriously closed economies in South America - especially in the car manufacturing and pharmaceutical sectors. And for consumers, the variety of fruit, meat and poultry will be much greater and costs may drop significantly.
But it means farmers from cattle ranches in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay will be able to gain a foothold in European food markets - potentially pushing Irish farmers off the playing field.
The Irish Farmers' Association has pointed out that farmers here adhere to the highest standards on traceability, animal welfare, food safety and the environment whereas farmers in Brazil do not.
Ireland can use its power of veto to stall this Mercosur deal. The Taoiseach earlier this month signed a joint letter with France, Belgium and Poland warning of the effect on agriculture in Europe, and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has outlined his disappointment.
But when it is already being hailed as a "win-win deal" by European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker, it remains to be seen if our political leaders have the will to stand up and say no.