Government denies it is at odds with Michael Creed over beef deal

Minister for Agriculture has vowed to ‘dismantle’ EU-Mercosur agreement

Michael Creed has vowed to ‘thwart’ the EU’s Mercosur deal. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Michael Creed has vowed to ‘thwart’ the EU’s Mercosur deal. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

 

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has said he intends to “frustrate”, “dismantle” and “thwart” the EU-Mercosur trade agreement in order to protect the interests of the Irish beef sector.

Mr Creed’s comments on the EU agreement with four South American nations appear to be at variance with Government policy, which is to examine the deal “in the round” and carry out an economic and environmental assessment before a decision is made on whether to oppose it or not.

A spokesman for Government and Mr Creed’s spokesman denied that the Minister was at odds with the Government position on the deal. However, his pledge to seek to ”thwart” the deal goes much further than anything Taoiseach Leo Varadkar or any other Minister has said on the matter to date.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that he would vote against the agreement if the economic and environmental assessments showed it to be against Irish interests and said that the Government would seek to protect Irish beef farmers.

However, he said that the Government must recognise that Mercosur – a bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – is “a market of 250 million people and while there may be losses for some sectors there could be significant benefits for others and we need to look at that in the round”.

Under the deal, announced last week after some 20 years of negotiations, the EU has agreed to accept 99,000 tonnes of South American beef into its market each year, which farmers claim could cost the Irish beef sector up to €750 million annually.

The deal, which is unlikely to be voted on for at least two years, also covers other sectors such as pharmaceuticals, services, machinery, and other food stuffs – including the importation of tens of thousands of tonnes of poultry and pig meat into the EU.

Negative effects

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys told the Dáil that “there are benefits in certain sectors but there are also negatives” in the deal.

However, Mr Creed went much further, saying he would not be found “defending the indefensible”.

“I have stated my view clearly. I have a responsibility to use the time available to us following the announcement of a headline agreement between the European Commission and Mercosur states to ensure everything is done to frustrate and mitigate, dismantle the ambition and protect the interests of the beef sector,” he said, adding that environmental and climate change requirements could be used to “thwart” the deal.

“Collectively, the challenge is to make progress on these matters in a way that will diminish the ambition of Mercosur.”

Government sources pointed to Mr Creed being under pressure from the wider agriculture sector and in his constituency.

Mr Creed’s comments did not go unnoticed in Brussels, with one senior European Commission source wondering if the Minister would resign due to being at variance with Government policy on the deal.