A potential EU-Mercosur trade deal “defies logic” and poses the most immediate challenge facing Irish beef exports, Pat McCormack, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), has warned.

This morning, an ICMSA delegation met with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed to discuss a range of issues, including: Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform post-2020; Brexit; and the threat of a possible Mercosur trade deal.

In his first official meeting with the minister since taking up his new role as president of the association; McCormack described the South American beef production system as “notorious for slipshod regulation and standards”.

It beggars belief that the European Commission would even consider ramping up environmental standards around qualification for direct payments to the EU’s own farmers; while, at the same time, negotiating for the importation of vast quantities of beef produced through a system identified as one of the chief threats to global environmental sustainability,” he said.

On the domestic front, McCormack raised the importance of facilitating the live export of calves; plus the clear provision of the shipping logistics around that.

The department, and various other stakeholders, are yet to confirm a replacement vessel to transport vital live exports later this spring. The issue has arisen as the ferry that regularly serves the Rosslare-to-Cherbourg route is set to be out-of-action for maintenance.

I hope and expect that the matter would be clarified very quickly and that the portion of calves destined for overseas markets would be able to get there.

Meanwhile, Ger Quain – chairman of the ICMSA’s Dairy Committee – is urging dairy co-ops and processors not to pick the lowest price on the market.

“We expect strong price to continue for the coming months. We’re not denying that wholesale markets are weaker than the summer and autumn of 2017; but, there’s a definite resilience there.

“Our feeling is that if farmers don’t get the highs of the spot markets, then we shouldn’t be getting the lows either,” he said.

He highlighted that current Irish butter and powder prices are “well above” Dutch quotations.

The onus is on co-ops and processors to be fair to Irish farmers and not simply look at the lowest price on the market and then announce that as the return to us.

“ICMSA won’t accept a situation where the lowest price is picked and then passed back to us. Returns for the butter / skimmed milk powder mix is above the European average and over 3.5c/L above Dutch dairy quotes; plus, the latest Global Dairy Trade showed positive returns.

“The relative stability in the market in the first month of 2018 could and should ensure that price remains strong over the first months of the year and into peak milk production months,” concluded Quain.