Trade talks put market for Irish beef sector at risk

The market for the €2bn Irish beef and livestock sector is being put at serious risk by ongoing EU/Canadian trade negotiations, says IFA president John Bryan.

The farmers’ group leader has written to Taoiseach Enda Kenny highlighting the serious concerns of Irish farmers.

He cautioned Mr Kenny that Canadian farmers will target Europe with “high-value steak cuts”, the prime revenue stream for Irish beef exports in Germany, France and other member states.

Out of the total EU beef market of about 8m tonnes, high value steak cuts account for only 560,000 tonnes. While they make up a relatively small part of the volume of the overall carcase, they account for up to 40% of the value.

Mr Bryan said: “Therefore, any increase in the volume of steak imports would have a disproportionately negative impact on European beef and cattle prices. This in turn would impact negatively on cattle prices, farm incomes, production, output, exports and jobs in the Irish beef and livestock sector, which is 90% export-orientated.”

Mr Bryan called on the Taoiseach to make urgent contact with European president José Manuel Barroso and impress upon him Ireland’s fears about any increase in access for beef imports. The IFA is also requesting that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney raise the issue with EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, and Enterprise and Trade Minister Richard Bruton with EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

Mr De Gucht has attended several meetings in Brussels this week with Canada’s trade minister, Ed Fast. He was joined at the talks by Canadian agriculture minister Gerry Ritz. Each party is seeking market concessions in relation to grain, beef, pork and dairy products. While Ireland’s focus is on protecting the beef market, views on each key sector vary between EU member states.

At present, depending on European crop yields, the EU already buys a lot of Canadian grains. One possibility being considered is for EU tariffs to move to zero as expected. Ireland’s agri-food sector would probably welcome this as Canadian grain imports would then become more attractive.

Canada, meanwhile, is pushing for access to the EU’s beef, pork and dairy markets, while EU negotiators are said to want to increase their cheese exports to Canada.


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