European Commission sources on Monday expressed confidence that it will be possible to conclude two major trade deals, with Mexico and the south American Mercosur countries, by the end of the year.
Progress in the latter has been accelerated, they say, by Europe's controversial but "necessary" offer during last week's talks to provide access to its markets for a quota of 70,000 tons of beef, an offer which has been strongly opposed by France and Ireland with the reported backing of nine other states.
The beef quota offer is causing considerable concern within the Irish farming community where fears about a simultaneous imposition by the UK of steep tariffs against Irish beef after Brexit have led to fears that European markets could face a glut of Irish and Brazilian beef and sharp cuts in prices available to farmers.
The president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association, John Comer, has complained that the beef sector is being sacrificed by the EU for the sake of a wider trade deal.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar lobbied commission president Jean Claude Juncker on the issue last week at the Tallinn summit, while Irish agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan, although circumspect on the scale of the offer, told Irish journalists recently he is "digging his heels in" to ensure the trade agreement does not allow for the import of lower quality beef into the EU.
But a commission source yesterday insisted that the deal being negotiated would ensure that any access by Brazilian beef to EU markets would be on the basis of the highest EU animal welfare and phyto-sanitary standards. The suggestion that exports would not meet such standards is not true, he said.
The commission claims that the Mercosur team “were not thrilled” by the EU offer – ie that it had not accepted it – but that they recognised the union in making it on one of the most difficult of the talks’ dossiers, had sought to fulfil its commitment to reaching a deal by the end of the year.
Mercosur is a common market of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.