The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has warned that the reopening of EU/Mercosur negotiations could have serious repercussions for the Northern Ireland beef industry. The comments were made after the EU farmers’ union body Copa-Cogeca, which UFU is a member of, sent a letter to EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos opposing the reopening of the international trade negotiations between the EU and the South American Mercosur countries unless certain prerequisites were met.

Copa-Cogeca has called for the EU Commission to carry out an economic study on the cumulative impact in agriculture of the bilateral negotiations on Canada, Mercosur, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

UFU President Ian Marshall said; “No one is opposed to international trade deals, I think farmers realise the global opportunities that are potentially available to our industry but it’s trade deals negotiated on an uneven playing field and which sacrifice agriculture that we can’t support.

“There continues to be a number of imbalances in relation to agriculture when it comes to trade between the EU and the Mercosur countries. Already more than 70% of the beefmeat and poultrymeat imported by the EU comes from Mercosur countries but this meat is not subject to the same high health, welfare and traceability standards expected of EU farmers. Also Mercosur does not have an integrated single market, such as the one that exists in the European Union, meaning European agricultural products cannot circulate in the same way as products from Mercosur countries. To add insult to injury, EU beefmeat is actually banned in Brazil. The Mercosur countries go to great lengths to protect their agriculture industries and we are calling on the EU Commission to do the same. Several studies, commissioned by the EU Commission itself, have already highlighted that the EU agricultural sector cannot gain from these negotiations.

“Northern Ireland’s beef industry is already on its knees. The uncertainty of how the reformed CAP will be implemented is hanging over farmers heads and it doesn’t help that the meat plants keep changing the goal posts when it comes to the beef pricing structure. An EU trade deal has already been agreed with Canada, which offered up a sizable chunk of the EU beef market, and negotiations are already underway with the USA who recently opened the doors to EU beef and I’m sure will be looking the favour returned. Add Mercosur into the mix and we could have a perfect storm which could ultimately wreak havoc on Northern Ireland’s beef industry.”