EU’s proposed trade deal with Latin America criticised by trade ministers

Irish minister concerned EU is vulnerable to massive influx of beef from Mercosur countries

Ireland’s beef sector would be particularly vulnerable to a massive influx of beef, not least with Brexit looming.

Ireland’s beef sector would be particularly vulnerable to a massive influx of beef, not least with Brexit looming.

 

A European Commission trade deal offer to Latin American countries which has provoked strong protests from European farmers, on Friday faced sharp criticism from EU trade ministers at their informal meeting in Brussels.

Ireland’s Minister of State for Trade Pat Breen was joined in his critique of the farm elements of the offer to the Mercosur bloc (Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) – notably the offer of access to the European market of 70,000 tonnes of beef – by French and Lithuanian ministers. Up to 10 others states expressed concern at other aspects of the Mercosur talks.

The commission has the sole right to negotiate on trade for member states but will have to get approval of any final deal from ministers. It hopes to complete a deal with Mercosur by the end of the year, although trade officials are deeply sceptical of that timescale. On Thursday, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, called for a slowing down of the process. He intends to raise concerns at the EU summit next week.

Mr Breen, who welcomed Mr Macron’s intervention, said he believed the commission offer was premature in talks which are currently deadlocked over access to public procurement and services.

Although Ireland favoured free trade agreements, he said it was crucial that the commission should take account of particular national sensitivities. Ireland’s beef sector would be particularly vulnerable to a massive influx of beef, not least with Brexit looming.

Ireland is also understood to be strongly concerned at the effectiveness of Mercosur proposals on sanitary and phytosanitary (inspections in relation to plant protection), and animal welfare controls on exports.

Next round

The ministers’ interventions on Friday, and that of Mr Macron at the European Council, are unlikely to deflect the commission from its purpose but, as one official put it, may constitute a shot over its bow ahead of the next round of the talks with Mercosur in Brussels in early November.

The EU’s current offer on beef was regarded with some derision by Mercosur negotiators when it was made, and it is likely the commission will want to increase it, even to double it to bring it closer to Mercosur expectations, in November. The hostility of ministers may constrain it somewhat, but at the very least will usefully demonstrate to its negotiating counterparts that the EU is going as far as it can politically.

Mr Breen also had bilateral meetings with French, Finnish, and UK ministers. He said that the latter, Greg Hands, had expressed considerable confidence that the UK would be able to overcome the challenges involved in creating a frictionless border in Ireland. The UK, he said, was also strongly committed to growing trade with Ireland.