Mercosur – It’s all about standards

Last week’s statement from the European Commission, to the effect that increased tariffs will ensure that Ireland’s EU beef markets will be maintained in a post-Mercosur world, should be treated with deep suspicion.

Also Read: Mercosur tariff rate quota should protect Irish beef farmers – EU commission

I make this point for two reasons: in the first instance, the essence of Ireland’s concern over cheap Brazilian beef coming into Europe is centred on the issue of production and management standards; secondly, tariff rates can be changed on a whim, standards of production cannot.

If last Friday night’s vaccine row taught us anything, it’s the unfortunate reality that Brussels can change policy on the hoof – when it feels that such a move is warranted.

So if, for example, the EU finds itself balancing the merits of IT exports versus beef imports at some future stage, there’s no guarantee that Brussels wouldn’t tweak beef tariff rates in Brazil’s favour, if such a move was deemed to be appropriate within the commission.

That’s exactly what happened last Friday night. And we have no reason to believe that such an occurrence could not happen again.

Brexit

Also note that Dublin was not forewarned of the decision to activate Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. So we can also assume that the Irish government would not be contacted by the EU Commission prior to any future decision being taken to tamper with beef tariffs in the aftermath of a Mercosur deal being agreed.

But none of this should come as a surprise to the real decision makers within the European Commission. They have just spent four years sorting out affairs with the UK. So, surely Brexit must be the role model used by Brussels to sort out Mercosur.

Throughout 2020, the commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier kept telling the world that Brexit was all about the maintenance of production / management standards and the creation of a level playing field in this context.

In fact, it is written into the final trading agreement that the EU can introduce tariffs if it is found that the UK varies from specific EU production standards.

So if such an approach was deemed to be crucially important for Brexit, then the same principles should be adhered to where Mercosur is concerned. Irish farming leaders should be demanding that nothing less will be tolerated by Ireland’s livestock farmers.

It’s time to call a spade a spade. The world and its auntie knows that Brazil’s beef production standards are light years behind those achieved day-in/day-out by Irish beef farmers. Issues such as traceability, farm quality assurance and animal welfare standards immediately come to mind in this regard.

So giving Brazil a trade deal based on tariffs would be the worst of all worlds for the Irish beef industry.