Opinion

Hogan should resign if Mercosur trade talks go ‘pear shaped’

I sense that Phil Hogan is about to do a Pontius Pilate impression and conveniently wash his hands of the madness that is being cooked up between Europe and South America, courtesy of the ongoing Mercosur trade talks.

It now looks as if beef will be very much part of the final shake-up. And, if this is the case, the implications for Ireland’s livestock sector could well be traumatic.

Meanwhile, Hogan has the easy way out within all of this by pointing to the fact that he was not directly involved in the Mercosur negotiations.

No doubt, he will also claim that his voice is only one among those of the other 27 EU Commissioners with a direct interest in Europe’s trade agreements.

The give-away that beef is now firmly on the negotiating agenda comes in the wake of insider suggestions that the introduction of import quotas is one way of softening the blow which a pending trade deal could wreak on Irish agriculture.

But surely we are beyond such times when Ireland has to take the proverbial ‘kick in the credentials’ for Team Europe. The country’s response to the recent financial crisis is proof positive of its EU bona fides.

A Mercosur deal with beef quotas attached is merely the tip of the iceberg. No doubt, such an arrangement will give the likes of Brazil the opportunity to chip away at the EU’s resolve on this matter.

It’s a very simple game to play: Our ‘friends’ in South America will push to get an extortionate increase in their beef export quotas at future reviews of the Mercosur deal, knowing full well that the EU will agree to a quantity that is significantly smaller.

But the end game will always remain the same: South America’s powerhouse livestock economies will succeed in getting more beef onto European markets over a period of time.

All of this is seriously bad news for Ireland’s farming economy. In fact, a combination of Mercosur and a bad Brexit deal could sound the death-knell for the beef industry in this country.

If Phil Hogan feels that the Mercosur talks are going south then, surely, he should resign his position as EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, as a matter of principle.

Why should he hang around and be complicit in a deal that will have major ramifications – all negative – for Ireland as a whole?

In so doing Hogan should be fully supported by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who will then have the job of telling the EU that Dublin cannot agree to a Mercosur arrangement that holes Ireland’s national economy below the waterline.

For the record, Mercosur marks new ground for the EU in terms of its trading arrangements with the rest of the world. Previous deals, such as that recently struck with Canada, always had the silver lining of opening up new markets for the Irish food sector.

However, marketing Irish beef in Brazil comes with the same health warning as that associated with selling snow to an eskimo.