EU prepared to sacrifice beef farms

THEY rushed us into a high-interest-rate financial bail-out, and they are now prepared to sell out most of our farmers. The EU is turning from friend to enemy in the eyes of many in Ireland.

The 55% here who supported the EU/IMF intervention, in a Eurobarometer survey last March, were expressing relief at outside agencies taking over our financial affairs, which our own government had got so disastrously wrong, but they will soon tire of the forced financial austerity which many experts believe will drive Ireland into debt default.

Farmers, however, are wedded to the EU for the income and market support they depend on if they are to remain on the land and provide the raw material for our food and drink exports, which consumers in other EU countries are happy to import to the tune of about €8bn per year.

But it is now clear that the EU is prepared to devastate our farming sector so that it can sell more manufactured items in South America (principally cars, trains, and jet fighters).

That is the inescapable conclusion of an impact assessment by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. They have examined the trade liberalisation deal which the Commission is seeking in negotiations with the Mercosur group of countries.

A deal would see Europe open its markets to Mercosur farm imports in return for greater access to their markets for services and goods.

The EU stands to lose up to 3% of its farm income, with many beef farmers going out of business, as cattle prices plunge.

The deepest losses would be felt by Ireland’s 110,000 cattle farmers, and their counterparts in Britain and France, unable to compete with a predicted 200,000-ton annual increase in beef imports from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

By 2020, EU beef production would fall by more than 150,000 tons a year, with EU cattle prices falling by nearly 8%, according to the impact assessment.

Ireland would see its annual farm revenues fall by more than 4% in 2020, due to the high share of beef production in overall farm output here. Farm income in Britain and France would fall by 3% and 2% respectively, according to the impact assessment.

It is predicted that 33,000 farm jobs could be lost in Europe, although some EU farmers and exporters would gain from an expected one million tons per year increase in grain exports.

The European Commission’s trade department has said an EU-Mercosur trade deal would deliver net economic benefits worth €4.5bn a year to both regions. It would be mostly at the expense of cattle farmers. The impact assessment dashed the hopes of the farmers who own our national beef herd — which Teagasc director Professor Gerry Boyle recently described as an important national asset which is generating 38% of agricultural output and earning valuable foreign earnings through exports. However, it depends on 100,000 cattle farmers who need off-farm jobs and EU income support to finance their loss-making cattle enterprises.

It’s no wonder Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney described the impact assessment as shocking, because he knows how precarious cattle farming is here in Ireland. First, CAP reform has threatened it, now it seems a Mercosur trade deal will get it, if CAP reform doesn’t.

The EU beef industry will be strongly defended by agriculture ministers in member states such as France, Ireland Italy, Austria, Greece, Romania, Poland, Belgium, Slovenia and Portugal. But they will probably be swept aside if it comes to a vote by heads of state on a trade deal worth €4.5bn a year.

However, the 736 MEPs elected across the 27 EU member states, who will have co-decision powers, have expressed grave misgiving at the European Commission’s solo run in trade negotiations that could backfire badly on EU citizens.

A Mercosur trade deal could kick in as early as next year, even at the snails-pace of international negotiations.

Agri-sector sources in South America are rubbing their hands at the prospect of revenge for the EU banning Brazilian beef imports on hygiene grounds, in January, 2008. They say a liberalised trade deal would bring affordable meat to 370m people in the EU, and €4.5bn to help the bankrupt nations of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and perhaps Spain, and that it’s a good swap for 30,000 over-subsidised EU farmers. In truth, hundreds of thousands of EU farmers would be affected.

Even if a Mercosur trade deal isn’t agreed, the entire cattle industry across the EU will drop any medium to longer term plans, due to the shocking implications of the Commission’s own impact assessment.


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