Phil Hogan vows to protect European farm sectors in free trade talks

An EU Parliament vote in February could clear the way for implementation of much of the EU-Canada free trade agreement, but the EU’s TTIP trade negotiations with the USA are on hold, pending the settling in of the new Trump administration.

In another development likely to be of major significance for farmers, the EU and New Zealand are preparing to launch talks on a free trade agreement.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Bill English met with the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker in December, with kick starting free trade talks high on the agenda.

Typically, such negotiations can take more than seven years to complete. A report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre shows that New Zealand would stand to benefit significantly in terms of increased agri-food exports (mainly dairy and sheep meat) into the EU’s single market of 500 million.

At the January EU agriculture minister council meeting, Poland asked for the dairy sector to be excluded from liberalisation tariff cuts in the proposed free trade agreement with New Zealand, and several member states shared Poland’s concerns.

In response, EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has vowed to protect European farm sectors in likely talks with New Zealand.

But he has also said growing exports to non-EU destinations is more important than ever, as Brexit puts Ireland’s main agri-food market at risk.

According to Commissioner Hogan, addressing the recent Navigating Global Trade conference organised by the Irish Farmers Journal, trade negotiations with Japan, a major importer of food, including beef, will conclude “very soon”, following agreement on the sanitary and phytosanitary chapter.

He said negotiations with the US on TTIP “will be on hold for some time”, after the opposition of several European member states, and the election of Donald Trump.

Commissioner Hogan said that talks will continue with the Mercosur bloc of South American countries, and would soon open with Australia and New Zealand. 

“All these free trade agreements will be negotiated with the interests of EU farmers and agri-food exporters strongly to the fore,” he said. “We will not compromise our standards on the altar of trade.”

n Free trade agreements with Singapore and Vietnam await EU institution and member states approval, and are on course to enter into force this year or 2018.

* Mercosur talks are at a much earlier stage, with the next round of negotiations expected in Buenos Aires in March. 

At the January EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said Ireland harbours grave reservations in relation to Mercosur negotiations on sensitive products such as beef.

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