A landmark trade deal between the EU and a number of South American countries can be "tweaked", Minister of State for Housing Damien English has said, amid a strong backlash from farmers concerned over the future of the beef industry.
The EU and Mercosur – a regional alliance of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – announced the trade breakthrough late on Friday following two decades of on-off negotiations.
However, while the accord makes the EU the first major economy to strike a comprehensive trade deal with Mercosur since its foundation in the early 1990s, it drew furious reaction from farmers who are concerned about the potential for a surge in beef imports.
"It is far from over," Mr English told RTÉ's The Week in Politics in relation to the terms of the deal. "In relation to this deal, it has a long way to go yet, there are a couple of years ahead before it is finalised. Minister [for Agriculture] Michael Creed has very clearly said on our behalf that we are concerned at the beef element of this.
“There are about two or three years to go yet, and we have to work on that. It is important that everyone reads through the plan.”
‘Really bad’ outlook
Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said "the medium term outlook looks really bad as a result of this deal, so it is incumbent on the Government and the Minister for Agriculture to do whatever they can to try and resolve this, because this will not be acceptable".
In a statement after the deal was announced, Phil Hogan, the former Fine Gael minister who is now EU Agriculture Commissioner, conceded it would present "some challenges" to European farmers.
"The European Commission will be available to help farmers meet these challenges. For this agreement to be a win-win, we will only open up to agricultural products from Mercosur with carefully managed quotas that will ensure that there is no risk that any product will flood the EU market and thereby threaten the livelihood of EU farmers," he said.