EU Commissioner Phil Hogan: EU's concession of a beef quota to the Mercosur countries is of understandable concern to Irish beef farmers
The EU's concession of a beef quota to the Mercosur countries is of understandable concern to Irish beef farmers, according to Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan.
However, the commissioner said that given the sensitivity of the beef sector, the deal includes a number of important safeguards which have been put in place to protect the interests of Irish farmers and consumers.
Ireland exports over 90% of its beef.
However, Commissioner Hogan said that, while presenting real challenges, particularly to the beef sector in Europe, the deal offered significant opportunities for Irish businesses, of which nearly 300 were already exporting to Mercosur.
As with any trade deal, this one had involved compromises and the EU had to make some important concessions as part of the overall balance. One of those concessions involved a quota of 99 000 tonnes which can be imported from the Mercosur countries at preferential tariff rates. This amounted to just over 1 per cent of total EU beef consumption, he said.
The EU is a global standards setter and will insist that all beef and other food products imported into Ireland comply 100 per cent with the EU’s stringent food safety standards.
"We can say, categorically, that beef or other food products imported from Mercosur will not be of a lower standard than those produced in Europe. This will be the responsibility of the EU’s Food & Veterinary Office, based at Grange in County Meath," he said.
Commissioner Hogan also explained that these new arrangements will not be introduced overnight.
“This beef quota will be implemented over several years, not starting before 2022 and then only over the following five years in annual instalments. In other words, it will be up to 2028 before this deal is fully implemented," he said.
The deal also includes a safeguard clause, which can be used if the EU agri-industry is seriously affected by increased imports. This is the first time that such a measure was included in any free trade agreement.
The Commissioner also announced that financial assistance for farmers would be made available if necessary.
“Given the potential impact of this deal on the agri-food sector, the EU will have in place a support package of up to €1bn to assist farmers, including Irish beef farmers, in the event of significant market disturbance. This is the first time that any such funding has been made available in the context of any trade agreement.”
A number of environment / climate commitments have been made to ensure that the Mercosur countries fulfill their obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Commission Hogan was stressed that the deal had many positive aspects for Irish businesses.
“Already, Ireland has a €1bn surplus with Mercosur in traded services and we export nearly €500m worth of goods to the region. These goods come from companies all over Ireland in sectors that support over 110 000 jobs in Ireland in such areas as chemicals and pharmaceuticals, medical devices and machinery and electrical," he pointed out.
The reduction or scrapping of tariffs in the agri-food sector presented new opportunities for exporters of cheese, skimmed milk powder and infant formula as well as Irish whisky and cream. Many of these industries were based in rural Ireland and support rural communities throughout the country, he said.
The Commissioner welcomed the Taoiseach’s "commitment to undertake a detailed economic evaluation of the deal before the Irish Government delivers its verdict.”