Farmers’ groups have reacted angrily to a report suggesting the proposed EU-US trade deal is likely to damage Irish beef exports.
According to an assessment by research group Copenhagen Economics, the beef industry here stands to lose between €25 million and €50 million a year due to increased competition from the US if the proposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) goes ahead.
“It is completely intolerable that the beef sector would be hung out to dry for the benefit of other sectors,” the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’s Association (ICSA) said.
"The spin on this, of course, is that the agreement would benefit the Irish economy overall, but is that justification for sacrificing any one sector?," ICSA president Patrick Kent said.
The report, commissioned by Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton, warned Irish beef output could decline by 2-3 per cent, in monetary terms €25-€50 million, as a result of more intense competition from the US.
However, it juxtaposed this with the potential benefits to the agricultural sector from increased trade, which could amount to an additonal €270 million worth of exports a year.
The risk to Irish beef exports was assessed prior to recent agreements to reopen trade with the US and China.
“We are now calling on Minister Bruton and EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström to guarantee that the beef sector will be protected under the proposed agreement,” Mr Kent said.
Ireland exports about half a million tonnes of beef each year, 90 per cent of the State's beef output, which is worth about €2 billion. It is the single biggest component of the country's €10 billion food and drink export business.
The US is likely to seek a lifting of restrictions on its beef exports to Europe as a quid pro quo for the letting Europe back into the US.
The current trade arrangements limit the US to exporting about 30,000 tonnes of beef into Europe before a punitive tariff kicks in.
An easing of this could seriously disrupt the pattern of trade in Europe, with an influx of US beef lowering prices and eroding producer margins.
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) see this as the biggest threat to the Irish beef industry.
IFA president Eddie Downey warnedrecently that the domestic Irish and EU beef sector cannot be sacrificed as a bargaining chip in the TTIP negotiations to secure a trade deal.