Mercosur trade deal: Phil Hogan urged to defend farmers

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed calls on commissioner to safeguard Irish farmers

The EU offered the Mercosur countries a 70,000 tonne annual beef quota. But Mercosur made it clear in January 2018 that an increased beef offer would be needed for an agreement, if a deal was to be reached. File photograph: Getty Images

The EU offered the Mercosur countries a 70,000 tonne annual beef quota. But Mercosur made it clear in January 2018 that an increased beef offer would be needed for an agreement, if a deal was to be reached. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed urged European Union commissioner for agriculture Phil Hogan last month to “redouble efforts” to defend Irish and EU farmers from a negative Mercosur trade deal.

In the letter, sent on June 7th, Mr Creed asks Mr Hogan to “use your good offices” to defend farmers amid concerns that negotiations would result in the EU making concessions on beef to get the deal over the line.

Mr Creed warns of growing concerns about what he says appears to be a “growing prospect of an unbalanced agreement that undermines the EU’s most vulnerable agricultural sectors in the very near future.”

The Minister has described the deal with the Mercosur group of countries (Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil) as “very disappointing” for the Irish beef sector.

In his letter the Minister goes on to write: “You will be keenly aware that these negotiations have been evolving in a way that has given rise to significant unease on the part of Ireland and other member states about their potentially very negative consequences for EU agriculture, and for the Irish and EU beef sector in particular.”

Irish concerns had “been greatly heightened” by warnings that there was renewed pressure for further EU concessions in sensitive sectors such as beef in an attempt to get the 20-year-old trade talks finished.

The EU offered the Mercosur countries a 70,000 tonne annual beef quota. But Mercosur made it clear in January 2018 that an increased beef offer would be needed for an agreement, if a deal was to be reached.

In his letter Mr Creed says an increase in the EU offer would only “compound” already existing difficulties. Under the deal announced last Friday, 99,000 tonnes of south American beef will go into the European market annually.

The Minister asks that Mr Hogan use his influence in negotiations and with his colleague, the EU commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström.

“I want to express my sincerest appreciation for the sterling work that you have done in recent years to promote the trade agenda, but also to reach a balance that protects the interests of Europe’s most vulnerable agricultural sectors. Unfortunately, it appears we now have to redouble our efforts at what is a critical time in this particular process.

“I will continue to work with other member states in the coming weeks to strenuously defend the interests of the EU agricultural sector. I would ask that you use your good offices, both in the negotiations themselves and in your continued engagement with your colleagues, trade commissioner Malmström, to the same end.”

Reaction from Dublin

Separately, Minister for Business Heather Humphreys expressed similar concerns to Ms Malmström on May 31st.

Ms Humphreys wrote that Ireland was expressing “strong concerns in relation to the impact these negotiations present to the beef sector, in particular the treatment of sensitive tariff lines, especially the Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQ) proposals.”

She said that it was “paramount that no increased offer in terms of quota, beyond that which is now on the table is conceded”.

The commission must ensure that “the volumes proposed are as low as possible, having regard to current and expected market conditions” and that “phasing-in periods are extended to allow the sector adjust to the increased level of imports”.

Once in force, the Latin American quota must be managed closely to account for market changes in the EU, she said, adding that compliance with EU animal health and welfare standards must be “guaranteed and overseen by the EU”.

Mr Hogan has publicly indicated that he is open to serving a second five-year term in Brussels.

Asked in Brussels this weekend if the deal would affect his intention to nominate Mr Hogan for reappointment, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar repeated his previous statement that the nomination would only be considered by the Cabinet when the new European Commission president is appointed.