As an open economy, Ireland is right to seek opportunities in trade. The prospect of higher penetration of the Japanese and other high-value, deficit markets is something that should be prioritised by our Government.
However, the template for trade deals must have equivalence of standards at its core. Across all products — beef, dairy, pigmeat and poultry — there can be no diminution of this in any negotiations.
Reports from Brussels suggesting that an offer as part of the Mercosur trade talks could be made next month should set alarm bells ringing at the highest levels of government here.
Having concluded the CAP debate here recently, which placed significant emphasis on safeguarding the family farm structure in Europe, a trade deal which would allow a flood of South American imports would fatally damage that very structure.
Any attempt by EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to pressurise the Commission into making an offer on the agricultural side to Brazil must be strongly resisted.
Undoubtedly, excessive concessions on beef, pig and poultry imports will severely damage Ireland’s agri-food sector and threaten thousands of jobs.
In addition, any move by the EU with Brazil as part of Mercosur or otherwise would torpedo discussions on the TTIP negotiations with the US.
As the largest beef exporter within the European market, any move to ramp up beef imports from Brazil would damage the Irish livestock sector.
It would be devastating in terms of the role our agri-food sector is playing in our ongoing economic recovery. IFA has made this very clear to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.
The reality is European producers and consumers will not accept food imports from production systems where the use of hormones in beef, BST growth promoters in milk and the beta-agonist drug ractopamine in cattle and pigs — all banned in Europe — is common practice. Europe cannot agree to any imports which fail to meet EU standards on the critical issues of food safety, traceability, environmental protection and animal welfare.
The EU negotiating position is failing European producers. Sensitive product-status is not delivering the appropriate protection because the EU is allowing it to be undermined by granting large tariff-free quotas. In addition, through the TRQ system, the Brazilians will cherry pick the EU market with steak cuts resulting in a disproportionate negative impact on prices.
Any increase in beef imports into the European Union will have very damaging economic, environmental and social consequences across rural communities in Ireland and Western Europe that depend on livestock production for their livelihoods.
The prospect of a trade deal with the Mercosur countries also raises questions about Europe’s approach to climate change. Irish beef production, for example, is between two and four times more efficient that South American production.
The Irish Government must be mindful of the impact that our livestock sector has in our economy.
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