'Deep concerns' on possible Mercosur deal outlined by Taoiseach in letter to EU Commission

'Deep concerns' on possible Mercosur deal outlined by Taoiseach in letter to EU Commission

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and three other European leaders have sent a letter to EU Commission President Jean Claude Junker highlighting their “deep concern” on a potential EU trade deal with Mercosur being passed next week that could “threaten agriculture” in Europe.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, French President Emmanuel Macron, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel sent a letter to Mr Junker on Monday as it is expected that the EU will table a beef quota offer to Mercosur of 99,000 tonnes.

The impending deal is also expected to offer more market access to the Mercosur countries on sugar, ethanol and other agri-food products at the end of next week.

The letter outlined that issues of importing beef, poultry, sugar and ethanol are particularly sensitive to the four countries.

“The import quotas currently negotiated for beef imports could threaten this fragile sector in our countries particularly against the background of the potentially dramatic and negative impact of a disorderly Brexit on EU markets,” the letter said.

“The cumulative effects of quotas negotiated in various trade agreements signed by the Union can ultimately destabilise production and the agricultural sector.”

It also stated that in order to preserve farming and rural economies in Europe and guarantee high quality products for its citizens several areas must be taken into account when negotiating with Mercosur countries.

These include:

    The quotas currently mentioned for beef, poultry, pork, sugar, and ethanol must not be increased further.

    Guarantees concerning compliance with the sanitary, phytosanitary, animal welfare and environmental standards in order to have fair production conditions for all food products sold in the European Union and in particular for quality meat.

    Certification and control of quotas must be exercised on the importers side, i.e on the European Union’s side.

    A segmentation of quotas between high value-added beef parts and other parts must be achieved, ensuring that the import of high quality parts is kept to a minimum.

    In addition, due to the vulnerability of those sectors we would seek assurances in order to strictly monitor and mitigate the possible negative impact on the agricultural sectors through e.g an ad hoc safeguard mechanism.

    We also need to ensure policy coherence between the EU’s trade policy objectives and its climate change responsibilities by ensuring that beef and other meat imports fully respect the EU’s norms and standards.

The IFA is strongly opposed to any deal, with President, Joe Healy recently calling on the Taoiseach to intervene.

“In view of the major Brexit implications overhanging the Irish and EU beef sector and the environmental degradation associated with Brazilian beef exports, it would be reckless to support a Mercosur deal,” Mr Healy said on a visit to Brussels last week.

Technical discussions to finalise a deal are tentatively scheduled for June 24, with a ministerial meeting pencilled in for June 27 in Brussels - Ms Malmström and EU agriculture chief Phil Hogan, are expected to attend this meeting.

The idea would then be to sign the deal at a G20 meeting in Japan this month.

At an EU Council meeting Mr Hogan insisted that the deal wasn’t being rushed and added there were still differences on agricultural issues between the EU and Mercosur countries that need to be resolved such as the volume numbers that Mercosur were seeking which he said weren't "realistic".

“Progress has been made in recent months certainly but again there are always difficult issues usually left till the finish and at the end of these negotiations we still have differences on agriculture.

"There are many demands and expectations being made by Mercosur countries which are not reflecting sensitives on the EU mandate on beef and sugar and ethanol and poultry,” he said.

“The type of numbers that are being sought by Mercosur countries on volumes are completely not realistic in terms of the European Union can agree to.”

He added that there were issues to be resolved in terms of safeguard mechanisms and environmental standards but that an agreement could be made next week if the right conditions are met.

“We do expect to make further progress next week at technical level. If we have the right circumstances by the end of next week in a ministerial meeting we will have a deal but we want to have a deal that is approved by Member States and regions.

“We are working closely to see if we can get common ground to moderate expectations on agriculture. We have a very good deal on offer on the industrial side and of course we have pressures on us in terms of agriculture to pay for those."

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