The need for a “level playing field” for Irish farmers in relation to international trade agreements was stressed by Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Martin Heydon.

The minister of state with responsibility for new market development underscored the importance of EU Free Trade Agreements in supporting the development of the Irish and European agri-food sectors.

Speaking today (Monday, July 19), Minister Heydon called for ongoing vigilance in relation to potential impacts for sensitive sectors, particularly the beef sector.

Speaking at today’s Council of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels, Minister Heydon said:

“Ireland has always considered the overall balance of free trade agreements to be largely positive – but we must remain vigilant about the potential impact on sensitive sectors of negotiations with, for example, New Zealand and Australia.

“We are also ensuring that our farmers achieve a higher level of climate and environmental ambition, and we must ensure that this is not to farmers’ detriment when it comes to negotiating free trade agreements.”

The minister made special mention of the EU-Mercosur Agreement as a prime example of the need for a level playing field on trade agreements:

“We support the commission’s efforts to have additional, robust, and legally enforceable commitments on environmental and climate action added to this agreement.

“These commitments should include a sanction regime for non-compliance including the potential removal of preferential tariff rate quotas.

The council also adopted conclusions on the EU’s Action Plan for the Development of Organic Production.

Minister Heydon confirmed Ireland’s support for the conclusions, and for the Action Plan, commenting:

“Ireland agrees that organic farming makes a very important contribution to ensuring the sustainability of European agriculture and food production.

“We have welcomed the action plan and today supported the adoption of the council conclusions, while also highlighting the need to ensure a market-oriented approach.”

Trade and sustainability also featured strongly in a council lunchtime discussion with US Secretary for Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.

Minister Heydon welcomed the recent improvement in EU-US trade relations brought about by the five-year suspension of tariffs on agricultural products arising from the Boeing and Airbus disputes.

Minister Heydon said he looked forward to both sides building on this positive development as they tackle the significant trade and climate challenges that lie ahead.