Minister Creed, Defend our Beef Farmers

Next week in Brussels sees the resumption of the EU/Mercosur trade negotiations, with talks set for October 10th to 14th.

Despite AGRI Commissioner Hogan’s assurances in May that beef was off the table (it should be noted that this was just prior to the UK Brexit vote), the threat to the EU beef industry is very real - this means the threat to the Irish beef industry is also very real.

The Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, will lead the negotiations for the EU and she has warned on several occasions, most recently in a letter to Minister Creed, that it would be impossible to sign a deal with the Latin American Trading Bloc (Mercosur) without some concession on sensitive products such as beef.

Worryingly for Irish cattle farmers, at the same time that she was ‘assuring’ Minister Creed that the Commission would proceed with utmost care on any concession on a sensitive area for the EU, she was also talking up the opportunities of a trade deal for Ireland in all the other sectors, highlighting the benefits of access to a larger market for Irish exports in the areas of dairy products, beverages, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment etc.

For Irish farmers the harsh reality in a globalised market is that the EU has much to gain in completing a deal with the South American bloc;

  • The EU is currently a major trading partner with Mercosur countries, accounting for 20% of Mercosur's total trade in the official figures for 2013. EU-Mercosur trade in that year was €110 billion;
  • Mercosur is the 6th most important export market for the EU. The EU's exports to the region have steadily increased over the last years, going up from € 28 billion in 2007 to €57 billion in 2013;
  • Mercosur's biggest exports to the EU are made up of agricultural products (43% of total exports) and raw materials (28%), while the EU mostly exports manufactured products to Mercosur, most notably machinery and transport equipment (46% of total exports) and chemicals (22% of total exports);
  • The EU is also a major exporter of commercial services to Mercosur (€18.5 billion in 2012), as well as the biggest foreign investor in the region.

In light of all the above, for the EU negotiators in these ongoing talks, securing an increased share of the market for their high-end goods and services in Mercosur countries against conceding ground on importing primary agricultural produce to the EU may - in their view - be a price worth paying.

This must not be allowed to happen - our beef industry cannot be sacrificed so that the European pharmaceutical and auto industries can increase their market share in South America. On this issue, Minister Creed and the Irish Government must stand and fight for their own. Ireland has sacrificed enough on the EU altar.

AgriculturePaul Cotter