EU called on to suspend FTA negotiations with New Zealand

EU talks on establishing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with New Zealand are a clear threat to farms and the food sector, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA).

The President of ICMSA, John Comer, has called on the EU to suspend indefinitely the negotiations around a possible Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with New Zealand due to begin later this year.

Comer said that the idea that such an agreement could even be considered in the context of the flux and uncertainty around Brexit was highly questionable and would only serve to add to the already high level of uncertainty.

He said that he could see no benefits whatsoever for Irish and EU farmers involved in the dairy, beef and sheep sectors from any kind of free trade agreement and he questioned whether there was any wider benefits for the EU economy in what appeared to be a potentially very one-sided agreement.

“Given their income position Irish and EU farmers are very disappointed that the EU seems bent on proceeding with these talks on a possible FTA with New Zealand.

“It is simply not possible to conclude such an agreement and protect EU farmers at the same time, as is being suggested by Commissioner Hogan.

“Protecting the EU agricultural sector and negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand is a contradiction in terms. Those ambitions are totally incompatible.”

In a situation where Irish farmers are already looking at a 15% drop in the value of our exports to the UK through the fall in Sterling and where the British Prime Minister and Commissioner Moscovici have both indicated that the so-called ‘hard’ Brexit, involving the probabilities of tariffs and increased regulatory and administrative costs, is now practically certain, why would the EU even contemplate proceeding with an FTA with a producer almost guaranteed to undercut indigenous EU producers in both dairy and sheep?

Comer said that the reality is that the EU would be expecting EU family farms to compete with what is effectively an industrialised farming system and this is simply not possible.

“At exactly the same time as Ireland will be facing new rules in relation to our single biggest export market, the EU seems to be proposing that we allow an industrialised food commodity producer free access to our other markets – this defies logic.”

Furthermore, the ICMSA President said that the Polish proposal made at the EU Farm Council on January 23, to exclude all dairy products from any tariff cuts was certainly a step in the right direction and it was extremely disappointing that Ireland did not see fit to support this proposal.

“The Irish and EU agri-food sectors are facing into a period of great uncertainty and this proposed FTA throwing open our markets to one of our chief global competitors simply makes no sense.”

ICMSA wants the negotiations immediately suspended and the EU to grasp the reality that this will expose family farms to demonstrably unfair competition and play right into the hands of the food retail corporations and food processors who will use New Zealand imports to drive down prices to EU farmers while seeking larger margins for themselves.

“The proposal would be the height of folly in normal circumstances but set against the threat and uncertainty of Brexit it is impossible to comprehend.”