Varadkar defends Mercosur trade deal from beef farmers’ backlash

Taoiseach says opposition to deal could thwart future free-trade arrangements

The Taoiseach said Ireland has to avoid becoming a country that is against free trade. File photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

The Taoiseach said Ireland has to avoid becoming a country that is against free trade. File photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

 

The Government must be careful not to bow to beef farmers’ wishes to thwart the Mercosur trade deal, only to prejudice access to more important markets, the Taoiseach warned on Friday.

“We export 90 per cent of our food, we’re a major food exporter and that’s only possible because of free trade. So Ireland has to be very careful not to become a country that suddenly is against free trade and is blocking free-trade deals,” Leo Varadkar said.

The Government was defeated on a vote on the Mercosur deal in the Dáil yesterday. The motion, put forward by Sinn Féin, condemned the trade agreement, recently agreed between the EU and four South American countries, as “a bad deal for Ireland and for the planet” and mandated the Government to oppose the deal at the Council of Ministers in the future.

The Republic would need other EU states to help form a blocking minority if it wants to kill the deal, and Mr Varadkar has said the Government would do so if an independent economic assessment shows that risks outweigh benefits.

Mr Varadkar said that the Government would do everything it could to defend beef farmers already suffering ahead of Brexit, and due to low prices, by seeking to ensure Mercosur countries operate from a level playing field and that Irish farmers gain from other markets such as China.

But he called for perspective.

“During the same period [as the Mercosur ratification], I’m going to be trying to negotiate a free-trade deal with the UK that continues to give our farmers tariff-free access to the most important market for Irish food,” Mr Varadkar said in the interview with Newstalk.

“We could find ourselves in a very strange position as a country that we’re arguing for a free-trade agreement with the UK and then trying to block a free-trade agreement with South America. We need to be very careful that we’re very smart on this and don’t win the battle on Mercosur and lose the war when it comes to the bigger picture.”

Although the Government was defeated in the Dáil after the Sinn Féin motion, it does not regard the vote as binding, and will not affect Government policy, which is to examine the details of the deal before forming a view on whether to oppose it. – Reuters