Buenos Aires Herald – 5 May 2016
Free-trade agreement would cripple Dublin’s beef industry, lobby group claims
DUBLIN — As the Mercosur bloc and the European Union prepare to exchange trade offers next week, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) carried out a protest yesterday in Dublin against the free-trade agreement between the blocs.
ICSA members gathered at the doors of the European Commission (EC) offices to criticize an “excessively weak” negotiation position taken by the EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström. The future of the Irish beef industry is at stake if the deal with Mercosur moves forward, they said.
The group is concerned that providing beef-exporting Mercosur members with access to the European market will cripple the Irish beef industry — given that more than 90 percent of the country’s beef production is exported to the EU.
The EU has reportedly offered Mercosur an annual beef import quota of 78,000 tons, a move the ICSA claims the Irish beef industry will not be able to withstand.
“ICSA is demanding that the EU Commission rows back from getting a deal at the expense of the EU beef sector. Beef is a sensitive product that cannot withstand the effects of the proposed concessions in Mercosur,” ICSA President Patrick Kent said. “The impact on EU beef farmers must be assessed on the basis of the aggregate importation of ultra-cheap beef from South America.”
Kent pointed out that it was utterly unfair to provide free access to EU markets to external producers who do not have the same burden of cross compliance and regulation endured by European farmers. However, the European Commission views the Mercosur deal as an opportunity to strengthen economic and political links with Latin America.
“Irish beef cannot be expected to compete on European markets with South American beef which is produced to a very different standard, where environmental damage is ignored and where labour standards and pay conditions are totally different,” Kent said. “Import tariffs provided some balance, so any proposal to undermine these will be disastrous and the impact on Irish exports would be serious.”
The protest comes after a group of EU Agriculture Ministers formally asked the bloc to exclude “sensible” farm goods such as dairy and beef from the free-trade agreement with Mercosur. European farmers fear they cannot compete with Argentina and Brazil, two of the world’s largest beef, chicken and soy exporters.
The two blocs — which last year traded more than US$88 billion in goods — will exchange initial market access offers next week, specifying ways to increase openness to each other’s goods and services.
The so-called “exchange of offers” would set out duty-free access each side is willing to compromise on goods, allowing negotiators to draw up a trade deal designed to encompass US$130 billion in annual trade.