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'A bad deal for Irish farmers': EU signs massive trade agreement with South American countries

The EU and the South American trade bloc Mercosur today sealed a hugely significant trade deal.

File photo of beef farmers protesting during negotiations for the Mercosur deal in 2016.
File photo of beef farmers protesting during negotiations for the Mercosur deal in 2016.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE IRISH FARMERS’ Association has said that a draft trade agreement between the EU and a number of South American countries is a “sellout” of Irish farmers and a “bad deal” for Ireland and the environment. 

The EU and the South American trade bloc Mercosur today sealed a hugely significant trade deal, ending 20 years of talks over one of the world’s largest regional commercial accords.

The agreement came after two decades of often tough negotiations between the EU and the countries of Mercosur – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – which had repeatedly stalled because of the issues that European farmers had over the effect the deal would have domestic beef markets.

“I measure my words carefully when I say that this is a historical moment,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement.

In the midst of international trade tensions, we are sending today a strong signal with our Mercosur partners that we stand for rules-based trade.

The trade pact is the largest ever concluded by the EU, he said, and would save European companies more than €4 billion worth of trade duties every year, as well as create a market of about 780 million people.

Opposition 

Joe Healy – president of the IFA – said that the deal had sold out Irish and European farmers. 

“This is a bad deal for Ireland and for Irish farmers, it’s a bad deal for the environment and it’s a bad deal for EU standards and consumers,” he said. 

Irish and EU farmers are strongly opposed to the deal, which they say will undermine beef markets as cheaper beef with low tariffs floods the EU from South America. 

The IFA states that South American beef also has a much more pronounced carbon footprint than domestic Irish beef, which is more sustainable. 

“The ‘turning a blind eye’ approach to double standards and environmental degradation in Brazil is indefensible,” said Healy, referencing widespread allegations that Brazilian rainforests are being destroyed as the beef sector expands.  

It makes an utter mockery of the pledge that this EU Commission signed when it took up office in 2014 to uphold EU legislation.

Healy called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to make clear to Brussels that he would not ratify the deal. Healy also hit out at EU agriculture commissioner – and former Minister for the Environment – Phil Hogan over the agreement.

“While Commissioner Hogan has done much good work, when he looks back on his five-year term, he will have to consider this Commission sell-out as a low point,” Healy said.

Edmond Phelan, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) said the deal was “an absolute disgrace”. 

“Let there be no doubt: a calculated decision has been made by European leaders to increase car sales, mainly petrol and diesel, at the price of sacrificing the EU beef farmer. The Irish beef sector, with 90% exported to EU markets, will take the full brunt of this outrageous decision.”

“It beggars belief that more rain forest will be cut down to facilitate Brazilian beef expansion while sustainable EU beef systems will be made completely unviable. At a time when Brexit is already damaging the Irish beef sector, this deal is a complete betrayal of Irish cattle farmers,” he said. 

Opposition politicians and activists have spoken out against this deal during the negotiations over the negative effect they claim it will have on the Irish beef sector.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny called it “nothing less than a sell-out” of Irish farmers.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed met with Hogan last week to discuss the impact the deal would have, stating at the time there were “strong reasons for concern about the possible conclusion of such a deal in the short-term, with specialist beef farmers in both Ireland and France being particularly exposed to negative impacts”.

Challenges

In a statement today, Hogan said that the deal “presents some challenges to European farmers” but he said the European Commission will “be available to help farmers meet these challenges”.

“For this agreement to be a win-win… carefully managed quotas 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.

Brazil welcomed a “historic” agreement with the EU, while Argentina called the deal “unprecedented”.

The announcement of the agreement, which must be approved by the 28 EU member states, comes as leaders of the world’s most powerful economies gather in Osaka, Japan, for a G20 summit.

It comes as the US administration of President Donald Trump is caught up in several bilateral disputes, including trade tensions with China and disagreements with EU countries.

Complications 

The negotiations had been further complicated by French President Emmanuel Macron who threatened to snub the deal if Brazil withdraws from the Paris climate accord.

The accord commits signatories to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to leave.

“If Brazil leaves the Paris accord, we could not sign trade deals with them,” Macron said last night in Japan en route to Osaka for the G20 summit.

“The reason is simple, we are requiring our farmers to stop using pesticides… our businesses to reduce emissions. That has a competitive cost,” he added.

Activists have urged the EU to halt the Mercosur trade talks over Brazil’s harm to its rainforests and indigenous peoples.

With reporting from © – AFP 2019

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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