What next from Brussels?

PERHAPS the EU is not really serious about the environment. Farmers worry about EU measures to cut greenhouse gases, but wonder if they may be part of a political bluff mounted in Brussels for reasons unknown to the average punter.

Why else would the EU be avidly pursing free trade with South American countries, after the Joint Research Centre of the EU Commission recently estimated that Brazil’s growing beef exports to the EU required deforestation of 11,000 hectares per year from 1987 to 2006? For every hectare of forest converted to grassland, about 600 tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted.

Brazil contributes 5% of the emissions causing global warming, but has pledged to cut emissions about 40% by 2020, mostly by tackling deforestation, industry and farming.

Beef production in the country emits four times the level of Irish farms, and 2.4 times that of New Zealand sheep farmers. New Zealand would seem a better EU trading partner, if the EU wanted to move towards the global co-operation needed if global warming is to be controlled.

Instead, South America is being courted and Brazil, a thriving agricultural exporter whose second largest manufacturing sector is food processing, will insist on full opening up of EU markets for its beef.

On the other side, the EU wants to open up new markets in fast growing economies such as Brazil for services such as banking and a range of products from cars to computers. Some see increased trade between Europe and Latin America as a remedy to lift the EU out of recession. A gigantic new trade bloc that would leave north America isolated is the dream for some politicians on the two sides, a much bigger target than the EU’s anti-global warming plans.

If a free trade agreement is signed, every extra tonne of beef carcase which Brazil will export to the EU will require 12.5 hectares of additional grazing land, according to the Joint Research Centre of the EU Commission, although it says these results should be used with extreme caution, because it does not have the full picture of what goes on within Brazilian agriculture.

Perhaps if the EU is serious about the environment, a free trade deal could oblige Brazil and other countries to stop Amazon Basin deforestation?

However, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has indicated there is real momentum behind the negotiations to open up EU markets to imports of meat from South American countries. The size and scale of the access for meat exports from Brazil, and Argentina will be drawn up by his colleague, the European Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos. Ireland’s outgoing Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith recently said the beef quotas sought by the south American countries are unacceptably high. EU farmers and co-ops fear losses to the EU beef sector of as much as €25 billion.

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said a fair trade deal would oblige EU and South American farmers to observe the same rules, equally implemented on both sides.

Despite such worries, the EU hopes to secure a free trade deal by the end of the year with South America.

For EU farmers, free trade deals and cutting greenhouse gases and CAP reforms every four or five years make long-term decision making impossible.

Only a handful of people at the top of the EU tree know what is going on. Former Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said the EU must live by openness, because it is the biggest exporter in the world. However, it seems content to leave its farmers and food industries working in the dark, guessing which way their bosses in Brussels will turn next.

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