Delegates of South American bloc Mercosur wanted to announce a political framework covering its trade agreement with the EU on the fringes of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But talks ended on 13 December, without an agreement on the controversial accord.
Commenting from the WTO’s ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström said: “All WTO members have to face a simple fact: we failed to achieve all our objectives, and did not achieve any multilateral outcomes.”
EU-Mercosur trade discussions are now on hold until 2018 without agreement. But the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) said the “serious threat” to Europe’s beef and poultry industry had “not gone away”.
IFA want Ireland’s leader, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and EU agricultural commissioner, Phil Hogan, to ensure further concessions are not offered to Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay).
Farmers, particularly the defiant French and Irish, were furious after the EU gave Mercosur terms to export 70,000 tonnes (t) of beef at lower taxes to Europe as part of the agreement. And IFA president John Healy said farmers feared Hogan could be willing to cough up more concessions to the South Americans.
“Beef is more important to Ireland than any other member state,” Healy fumed. “The Taoiseach and Commissioner Hogan cannot agree to a Mercosur deal involving a major increase in substandard beef imports from Brazil at the same time as we face the serious challenges of Brexit.”
IFA, pointing to a 2016 EU Joint Research Centre study, warned beef prices could rise by 16% if the EU imported more Latin American protein. Due to Ireland’s dependence on beef sales, one of its main agri-food exports, cheap South American cow meat could cost the industry up to €750m (US$885m), the same report showed.
Cheap beef exports would add another headache to the Irish industry already facing the great uncertainty of what happens to the roughly 200,000t of beef Ireland exports to the UK per annum.
EU farm group Copa-Cogeca, which represents farmers from 27 member states, warned the current deal on beef was “far too generous”. Copa-Cogeca secretary general Pekka Pesonen added: “Any further concessions would result in surpluses on the market, risking the collapse of some of our sectors, especially in beef and other meat, sugar and fruit produce.”
The Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock in Brazil (CNA) could not be reached for comment at the time of writing.