Opinion

Forget Mercosur; Canada is already over the line

A Mercosur trade deal is only one of the threats facing the Irish livestock industry at the present time.

The fact is that Canada has already received the ‘green light’, when it comes to sending its beef to Europe.

And, from what I’m hearing, Canadian beef farmers and processers are now very keen to ramp up exports of meat to this part of the world.

This is allowed for under the terms of the recently agreed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) trade deal. Over the next six years, Canada’s quota for beef shipped to Europe will rise gradually from 15,000t to 65,000t annually. For pork, the quota rises from 6,000t to 75,000t, again with a six-year phase-in period.

And, no doubt, the same principle will hold when it comes to the specifics of a trade deal that is secured by Canada with the UK, post-Brexit. Where beef is concerned, it would make absolute sense for Canadians to seriously target the world’s most lucrative market.

Currently, the big stumbling block for our ‘friends’ in Canada is the continuing use of hormonal growth promoters in their feed lots.

But having travelled through a fair bit of Alberta over recent weeks, it’s obvious to me that beef producers in that part of the world are aware of this challenge and would commit to producing hormone-free beef, so as to get a genuine foothold in the EU/UK market.

Getting improved access to Europe serves two purposes for the Canadian beef industry.

In the first instance, it is a new market opportunity. But, more than that, it gives the sector a degree of cover, should its traditional export outlets in the United States become less welcoming.

Where beef is concerned, country of origin labelling has recently become mandatory in the US.

Many livestock farmers in Canada believe this to be the start of a process that could see their beef devalued in the eyes of American consumers.

Up to this point, the US has been a ‘de facto’ second home market for beef produced in Canada. If this situation changes, Canadians will have little option but to look at what new markets are available to them across the Atlantic.

All of this is, potentially, bad news for Ireland’s red meat sector. Any increase in competition within the UK’s beef market will have only one end point: enhanced pressure on Irish farmgate returns.

Under such circumstances, the need for our farm leaders and politicians to be proactive in defending the interests of Ireland’s beef industry, against Canadian agression, becomes obvious.