Farm bodies unite against talks between EU and South America

FARM leaders, north and south, have pledged to work together to oppose trade talks that have re-opened between the European Union and the Mercosur group of South American countries.

The Irish Farmers Association has warned that a bilateral deal between the trading blocs will decimate the livelihoods of 80,000 Irish livestock farmers and inflict losses of €350 million on the beef sector.

IFA president John Bryan and newly elected president of the Ulster Farmers Union John Thompson discussed the threat at a meeting between the two bodies in Dublin yesterday.

Both leaders warned that such a trade deal would have a devastating impact on the livestock, pig, poultry and grain sectors.

The European Union and the Mercosur group resumed the stalled trade talks in Buenos Aires earlier this week.

Past efforts have come up against disagreements on agriculture issues, with European farmers and politicians fearing a flood of cheap beef and poultry from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

In May, both sides agreed on the sidelines of an EU-Latin American summit in Madrid to resume the talks.

Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith, as well as ministers from other EU member states, has made clear Ireland’s serious concerns at the possible impact of these negotiations on the agriculture sector.

European Trade Commissioner Karel De Guch, speaking in Brussels, said the re-launch of negotiations gives serious hope that they can come to a substantial free-trade agreement.

“The level of ambition depends on the political will of the EU itself to come to that kind of agreement. So it’s not clear-cut,” he said.

Meanwhile, the review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and animal health issues were also discussed at yesterday’s IFA-UFU meeting in Dublin.

Both pledged to secure a properly funded Common Agricultural Policy that continues to support active farmers post-2013. Mr Bryan said they recognise the importance of the CAP and safeguarding the single farm payment.

Mr Thompson said the UFU and the IFA will work closely in the coming months as the debate steps up, and will co-operate at European level to build a stronger case for the CAP.

The two presidents also concluded that enhanced animal health has the potential to reduce the cost of controls for diseases such as brucellosis and TB for farmers. They said an all-island approach is the most effective means of achieving animal health objectives.

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