EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan has said he understands the concern of Irish beef farmers following a landmark trade deal between the bloc and a number of South American countries, but insisted there had to be be give and take to secure the agreement.
On Friday the European block and Mercosur – a regional alliance of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – announced the trade breakthrough following two decades of on-off negotiations.
Brussels has estimated the deal will wipe out about €4 billion in annual customs duties on EU exports, securing preferential access for European goods and services to a region of more than 260 million people.
However, the deal, which had been resisted by farmers over nerves about a surge of beef imports, has been sharply criticised for “selling out” both Irish farmers and environmental standards.
“I can understand there is a lot of worry in terms of the deal,” said Mr Hogan on Saturday.
“We have seen the concentration on beef which is very much understandable because we were on the defensive in relation to beef.
“What I was trying to do over the last couple of months when the pressure came on was to try and limit the damage, but certainly I can understand the worries of farmers in relation to this deal.
“We’ve conceded some beef because we’ve had to make some concessions ... to get the €6 billion in savings in the industrial side over the line. But we’ve gained in the dairy sector which nobody has mentioned.
“We’ve secured for the first time in a free trade agreement €1 billion in financial support and common market organisation support in the event of a market disturbance when it’s implemented.”
Mr Hogan, who was speaking on RTÉ radio, insisted the deal would protect food and environmental standards.
“If president Bolsonaro of Brazil wishes to follow Mr Trump in pulling out of the climate agreement then this agreement falls,” he said.
“We have identified the problems of deforestation in Brazil and we have set out an agenda in this agreement to put them right.”
In terms of what the EU got out of the deal, Mr Hogan continued: “In Japan we gained a considerable amount in agriculture in dairy and in beef, 65,000 tonnes of beef.
“In Mexico we gained a lot in agriculture, 40,000 tonnes of beef. I don’t hear anybody talking about this. And in return, in this particular case, we were on the defensive.
“In Mercosur we gained in relation to industrial products and we were on the defensive and lost a bit of ground in agriculture. These are the swings and roundabouts of trade.”