Creed insists EU-Mercosur agreement is not a ’done deal’
Trade deal could be ‘death knell’ for Irish beef sector, FF leader says
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed the deal, reached on Friday between the EU and Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, could potentially signal the death knell of the beef sector in Ireland in the wake of Brexit. Photograph: Robert Pratta/Reuters.
He told the Dáil that no government or parliament had yet approved the agreement and there was a “considerable distance to travel before we have an inked deal that bears the imprimatur of Europe”.
In the ongoing row over the agreement which provides for 99,000 tonnes of beef to be imported to the EU along with 180,000 tonnes of poultry and 25,000 tonnes of pig meat, Mr Creed said he was very disappointed that the deal would allow the import of beef at preferential tariff rates.
He expressed concern that it was happening when the beef sector is facing “significant uncertainty” due to Brexit but said the deal came at the end of 20 years of negotiations between the EU and Mercosur countries.
The Government had worked with other EU members states to mitigate the potential impact on EU agriculture.
Earlier the Dáil was told that the EU-Mercosur trade deal which allows the importation of tens of thousands of tonnes of beef from South America will “reward climate change deniers”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed the deal, reached on Friday between the EU and Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, could potentially signal the death knell of the beef sector in Ireland in the wake of Brexit.
He accused the Government of “quietly acquiescing” to the deal which allows for the importation of 99,000 tonnes of beef, 180,000 tonnes of poultry and 25,000 tonnes of pig meat.
Mr Martin claimed that the deal is outdated “as it ignores the impact on the beef sector post Brexit”.
He said Europe was allowing the importation of beef being produced in an environmentally unsustainable way while at the same time Irish beef producers were among the most efficient producers in the world of traceable meat.
He said a hectare of rainforest in Brazil was being cleared every minute and the only reason for this was to create grazing pasture for cattle. He said this “should be a showstopper for the Mercosur deal”.
However, Minister for Communications Richard Bruton insisted that the parties to the deal would have to adhere to the Paris Agreement on climate change. Mr Bruton, taking leaders’ questions for the Taoiseach who is in Brussels, accused Mr Martin of “distorting the reality”.
He said if the parties did not comply with the agreement, “there is no deal”.
Mr Bruton said the Government had been consistently concerned about the impact on the beef sector and that the initial demand was for 300,000 tonnes of beef. He told the Dáil they all needed to step back and take time to consider the agreement “in the round”.
He said there were lots of opportunities for the Irish market through the deal including in the dairy sector, pharma, chemicals and food.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that Fianna Fail signed the mandate for discussion on this agreement in 1999 and that her party had consistently asked the Government to withdraw from the negotiations for the past five years. She criticised EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan for describing the deal as “fair and balanced”.
She pointed to the tariff free import of not only beef but poultry and pig meat as well which was “a sell out of Irish farmers and their families”. She called for the Dáil to have a binding vote on this agreement.
Mr Bruton said Ms McDonald had consistently opposed the Canadian agreement, the Japanese agreement, the Korean agreement and these deals had helped Ireland to diversify. He said “we have to diversify in the wake of Brexit but we have to defend the Irish Beef sector”.
Independent Michael Healy-Rae claimed the Minister was “trying to sell the unsellable, you’re trying to defend the indefensible”.
He accused the Minister of trying to “take the steam out of this deal...I’m appealing to you and the Taoiseach and the rest of the Ministers to wake up”.
Mr Bruton said he was not saying “this is a perfect agreement by any means”. He said they had two years to evaluate the deal and “to come in here scarcely after the ink has dried” and before every TD had read the deal “is dangerous”.
He said they would look consider the agreement and see what improvements they could make and if it should be signed.