The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, earlier today expressed his concern about a Mercosur trade deal that could seriously disadvantage the Irish and European beef sector.

The minister was speaking at a meeting of the European Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers.

Minister Creed said: “In relation to Mercosur, I have grave concerns about the offer of a beef tariff rate quota in last month’s round of discussions, which gives rise to potentially very serious consequences for the Irish and EU beef sector in particular.

This comes at a time when that market is in a delicate balance and is already faced with the potentially very serious consequences of Brexit.

“Against the Brexit backdrop, now more than ever, market diversification is of the utmost importance. In that regard, I would like to thank Commissioner Hogan for his work in helping to develop and expand trade opportunities, ” the minister said.

“There have been many positive developments in this area in recent times, both of trade agreements and market access improvements – and none more so than in the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement.

“Later this week, I will lead a trade mission to Japan and Korea to build on this opportunity for the Irish agri-food sector,” Minister Creed announced.

Ministers also had the opportunity to discuss the sustainable use of pesticides. Minister Creed said it was important for the EU to continue working together, reducing the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment as a whole.

He noted that fact finding missions conducted by the commission have identified a range of good practices operating in member states. Ministers also discussed sustainable soil management during the meeting.

‘Stronger defence needed’

Speaking in Brussels this evening, Irish Farmers’ Associaion (IFA) National Livestock chairman Angus Woods also highlighted the Mercosur issue among other topics, stating the need for a much stronger and more robust defence of the European beef sector and family farm model of quality beef production with higher standards.

“The beef sector is under constant attack from many areas and must fight back. This has to start with our political leaders,” Woods said.

The chairman said European and Irish beef farmers, who operate on low incomes, are demanding that political leaders across Europe and the EU Commission stand up and fight for the beef sector, which delivers in abundance in rural areas.

Woods said COPA, as the representative of European beef farmers, is demanding specific support for the beef sector under the CAP.

He said Commissioner Hogan will have a unique opportunity to address the low income problem in the beef sector in his forthcoming green paper on CAP 2020, which is due to be launched later this month.

Woods said direct payments in CAP are critically important to the incomes of livestock farmers and in Ireland make up over 100% of incomes on most beef farms. He said Commissioner Hogan must remain strong on defending the CAP budget and ensuring that direct payments in Pillar I and Pillar II are fully protected.

On Mercosur, Woods said the EU Commission “has gone way too far in its excessive offer” to Brazil and other Latin American countries, which must be hauled back in. He warned that the EU policy around double standards will come back to bite the commission.

Woods said COPA has put forward detailed policies for the beef sector covering a wide range of issues including specific CAP support, export supports for new markets, Mercosur, Brexit, specific promotions for beef from the suckler cow herd and improving the economic position of farmers in a properly functioning food chain.

Speaking at the function, COPA Beef Chairman Jean Pierre Fleury said the EU must sort out the Irish issue on beef in Brexit or otherwise “we will have substantial problems across the entire European beef sector”.

Fleury said Mercosur is an extremely hot topic and EU beef farmers are extremely angry with the way the EU Commission are using beef as a bargaining chip in the negotiations. He said this is putting at stake the future of beef meat production across Europe.

Everybody is brushing the issues of double standards under the carpet. It is incredible that some four and five star hotels and restaurants across the EU are using imported beef from Brazil and other Latin American countries.