Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has spoken about the Mercosur trade talks with other member states ahead of today’s Council of Ministers meetings Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg.
He raised alarms following indications that the Commission may be about to offer Argentina, Brazil, and the Mercosur partners tariff rate quotas for sensitive products, including beef.
Mr Coveney highlighted Ireland’s unique exposure to Mercosur imports to the EU, as 90% of Irish beef output is sold into the EU. The EU and the Mercosur bloc are due to make a formal exchange of offers in early May.
“Any renewed engagement with Mercosur must be preceded by a period of careful reflection and further analysis, taking account of recent significant changes in the European agricultural policy environment, the cumulative impact of concessions granted under other free trade agreements, and the need to ensure parity of treatment between the EU single market and the more fragmented market organisation within the Mercosur bloc,” he said.
Mr Coveney urged the Commission to defer any discussion of sensitive products until the final stages of negotiations. The Commission has adopted this approach in its ongoing TTIP trade negotiations with the USA.
Meanwhile, the Ibec meat processor group Meat Industry Ireland (MII) is calling for the Government to intervene to stop the European Commission making “an unjustified and damaging offer” to the Mercosur bloc.
Cormac Healy, MII director, said: “We understand from Brussels the Commission is to make a new offer to Mercosur which will include substantial import quota concessions on meat from the South American countries. This has the potential to have a major destabilising effect on the EU beef market in particular but also raises real concerns for the pigmeat and poultry sectors.
“A renewed offer by the EU to Mercosur is completely unjustified as the European Commission has undertaken — at the request of member states — to carry out an impact assessment on the cumulative impact of all ongoing trade negotiations on the EU agri-food sector; this will not be completed until after the summer.
“Making a new offer now, in these long drawn out negotiations with Mercosur countries is completely inappropriate.”
MII added that the potential of the EU beef market to absorb extra volumes of duty-free imports for South American has been significantly decreased in recent years. The EU’s internal beef consumption has fallen by 500,000 tonnes; medium term forecasts on consumption recovery remain weak.
Mr Healy said: “The urgency of this matter is such that the Taoiseach needs to intervene with President Junker to stop a new ‘give-away’ offer being made and at an absolute minimum to ensure that offers are not made on sensitive products such as meat.”
The IFA has urged Mr Coveney to make it clear that Ireland cannot accept any exchange of offers which would be negative for Irish agriculture, and particularly damaging for the €2.5bn beef sector, and impact on the pigmeat and poultry sectors.
IFA national chairman Jer Bergin said: “Minister Coveney must work closely with his French counterpart to build further opposition among member states and prevent any exchange of offers on sensitive products,which include beef.”
The EU draft offer is based on a tariff rate quota of 78,000 tonnes of beef, of which 39,000t is high quality beef at a tariff rate of 7.5%.
Mr Bergin said: “Previous analysis by the European Commission has shown that a Mercosur deal would inflict losses of €7.8bn on the EU’s agriculture sector. The individual losses at farm level would be much higher, particularly for beef farmers. This would have a knock-on effect on rural economies.