‘Ireland and France will work together on EU-Mercosur trade deal’ – Taoiseach

The impact of the Mercosur free-trade deal on Irish beef farmers was high on the agenda during Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s first formal meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, in Paris.

Speaking after an hour of “detailed talks” at the Elysee Palace, the Taoiseach stated that both leaders shared “very much aligned interests” on trade negotiations between the European Union and the Mercosur group of South American countries, including Brazil and Argentina.

“We spoke about Mercosur, both of us are in favour of a trade deal with those South American countries.

But we share a real concern about the impact on agriculture in our countries, the beef industry and protecting our beef farmers and the quality of our beef industry as well.

“We were very much aligned on that and we’ve agreed to work together,” he said.

Brexit

The meeting opened with discussions on the shape of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

“We started off talking about Brexit. He wanted to hear a little bit more from us as to what the challenges are when it comes to Brexit.

“One thing I find more and more, as I travel around Europe, as I meet other European leaders, is the extent to which we continue to need to explain the very unique issues that face Ireland. We assume that everyone understands and they don’t always necessarily.

“The big issue around the table of the European Council is the financial settlement, and how much the United Kingdom will have to pay to leave. But as I always point out to my European colleagues, for us, this is about much more than money, it’s about the future of peace on our island,” he said.

While they did not agree on everything, the Taoiseach stated that he leaves Paris “feeling very strongly” that Ireland has a very strong ally in France.

“I’d say we agree on 80% or 90% of things, differ on maybe 10%. But I think we have a real friend in President Macron, and a real friend in France, which, of course will be the country in Europe closest to us after Brexit,” he said.

French alliance

Meanwhile, IFA president Joe Healy described the Taoiseach’s first formal meeting with President Macron as an opportunity to improve bilateral relations on the Mercosur trade negotiations – expected to be finished in the coming months.

“France has always been a strong ally of Ireland’s on farming issues and the Taoiseach should build on this historical alliance to send a strong message to the EU Commission that Mercosur would be very damaging for our single largest farm sector,” he said.

Last week, the French President insisted that the negotiations would be discussed at the EU Summit, at which he warned against rushing into a deal with the South American countries.

The beef sector in Ireland is more important to our national economy than any other member state. The Taoiseach has recently raised the danger for Irish beef farmers in the event of a Mercosur deal with the President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, and we expect him to keep our concerns to the forefront at EU level.

“There is a huge gulf between high production standards involved in EU beef production and the failure on standards that apply to imports from countries like Brazil, and other South American states. It is completely unacceptable that the EU Commission continues to accept this policy of double standards when it comes to imports,” Healy concluded.

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