EU aid for farmers in case of UK tariffs on Irish meat

Any British threats to favour imported Brazilian beef over Irish meat will be countered by significant EU and State aid supports, the Government has said.

Warnings by the UK of significant tariffs on Irish beef in the event of a no-deal Brexit were raised in the Dáil yesterday. But the Government said EU support would aid farmers hit by changes.

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary raised concerns about reports from the UK that Britain is prepared to favour Brazilian beef over Irish with tariffs and quotas.

It is believed UK food and rural affairs secretary Michael Gove may, in a bid to protect British farmers, introduce a system of quotas to allow certain products in without tariffs.

Such a new system could apply to products like poultry and beef — and would benefit massive producers, such as Brazil, at Ireland’s expense.

“We all know and accept that there is no comparison between the quality of our beef and beef from countries such as Brazil,” said Mr Calleary. “That will not make any difference on the supermarket shelves of Britain, if their produce comes in on a tariff-free basis, compared to ours.”

He also said agriculture, and specifically the beef industry here, was already under great pressure, with prices at an all-time low. But the Government was maintaining an attitude of “it will be all right on the night”, claimed the opposition spokesman.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney responded that the Cabinet was “more than aware of threats” to the sector.

Of the 130,000 farming families in Ireland, some 100,000 were involved in beef production, the Dáil heard. “When it comes to agriculture, beef is the most important issue,” said Mr Coveney.

While the Department of Agriculture had looked at a worst-case scenario with Brexit, the Government has sought help from Brussels. Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, has told the Government that farmers will be given aid during a Brexit transition period, Mr Coveney told the Dail.

“If it comes to it, this Government will not be found wanting to support and work with this sector through a very difficult period, should a no-deal Brexit materialise. That will involve a significant amount of money and a relaxation of the State-aid rules that allows us to be able to support the vulnerable sectors through the consequences of a no-deal Brexit,” said the Tánaiste.

Mr Coveney also disagreed that Britain could, in a no-deal scenario, distinguish countries with regards to WTO tariffs.

If they [Britain] were to do that under WTO rules, they would not be able to apply a different tariff system or quota system to Ireland or to the EU, as they would be to other parts of the world. The only thing that would then differentiate Irish beef from beef from other parts of the world would be quality restrictions, which, of course, are a factor.

Mr Coveney also ruled out setting up a standalone department in charge of only agriculture and food. Replying to questions from Independent Cork TD Michael Collins, about the beef crisis, the Tánaiste said contingency plans were under way, in general, for agriculture.

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