Beef sector cannot be sacrificed in ‘toxic’ Mercosur deal

The beef sector cannot be sacrificed in favour of pushing through the ‘toxic‘ Mercosur deal, according to the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Joe Healy.

Healy called on the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, not to agree to a bad Mercosur deal which will seriously damage the Irish beef sector.

The IFA president was speaking from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference, which is taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina this week.

He said: “Beef is more important to Ireland than any other member state. Commissioner Hogan cannot agree to a Mercosur deal involving a major increase in substandard beef imports from Brazil at the same time as we face into the serious challenges of Brexit.”

Healy is joined in Argentina – where meetings ahead of the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference are taking place on an EU Mercosur trade deal – by the IFA’s National Livestock Committee chairman Angus Woods.

Major pressure

The IFA president believes that there is major pressure coming from the EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmstrom, to agree a deal with Brazil and the other countries in the Mercosur bloc by the end of this year – regardless of the consequences for the European and Irish beef sector.

Based on the excessive offers the Directorate General for Trade of the European Commission has put on the table to date, it is clear that Commissioner Malmstrom is willing to sacrifice the beef sector to secure a deal at any costs, Healy said.

Any EU deal on beef with Brazil in the Mercosur negotiations would be toxic, he added.

He outlined that Irish and European beef farmers are very angry at the way they are being sacrificed in the Mercosur deal and that there is bad blood over the “excessive offer” of an additional 70,000t TRQ (Tariff-rate quota) offered by the EU.

Potential deal

Last week, it was claimed that the Mercosur trade bloc was confident that a framework agreement with the EU would be announced this week, as the WTO Ministerial Conference takes place in Argentina.

According to Reuters, an official close to the negotiations said: “There is more than a 70% chance of reaching a deal.”

Reaching an agreement on quotas for beef and ethanol are proving to be the biggest hurdles in the negotiations – which began almost two decades ago.

Vulnerability of the beef sector

An EU JRC (Joint Research Centre) report published last year showed how vulnerable the European beef sector is to trade deals, according to the IFA.

The analysis showed that increased imports from Mercosur would hit EU beef prices by up to 16%, costing €5 billion annually, the association added.

Due to our export dependence, the impact on Ireland would be greater, potentially costing between €500 million and €750 million. In addition, Brexit has placed a major doubt over the UK market for 260,000t of Irish beef.

“With Brexit, the EU beef market would be 116% self-sufficient. To negotiate a trade deal with Mercosur at this time makes no sense whatsoever,” a statement from the IFA said.

Standards

Irish and European farmers are required to meet the highest food safety and environmental standards in the world, Healy said.

Meanwhile, Irish beef production is four times more carbon efficient than Brazil – where growth is driven on the back of destruction of the rainforests, he added.

In addition, the IFA president said the Weak Flesh corruption scandal in Brazil in March 2017 proved once again the failure of Brazil to meet European standards.