Mer­co­sur deal on hold amid 15 ‘open is­sues’

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE -

THE EU now hopes to con­clude a trade deal with the South Amer­i­can Mer­co­sur bloc by Fe­bru­ary next year.

EU agri­cul­ture chief Phil Ho­gan said yes­ter­day that there were still 15 “open is­sues”, fol­low­ing a “dif­fi­cult” meet­ing with the Mer­co­sur coun­tries in Buenos Aires last week.

“Mer­co­sur talks were quite dif­fi­cult,” Mr Ho­gan said, “but we feel we have made progress and hope­fully that we can con­clude suc­cess­fully a deal, pro­vided that all our con­di­tions are met, in Fe­bru­ary 2018.”

EU-Mer­co­sur trade talks had ef­fec­tively stalled as the two sides bat­tled it out over agri-food quo­tas af­ter an Oc­to­ber EU of­fer on beef.

Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar and French pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, who are leading the charge against the beef of­fer, both spoke out against it at a meet­ing of EU lead­ers last week.

Spain and Por­tu­gal want to “press ahead” with a deal, Mr Varad­kar (pic­tured) said. He said a deal was “some­thing that the Ir­ish govern­ment would sup­port but we have a par­tic­u­lar is­sue, as does France, around the beef and veal in­dus­tries”.

“We want to make sure that that is pro­tected and also that stan­dards are up­held — food safety stan­dards, an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards, la­belling, trace­abil­ity… all of those things that are im­por­tant to the safety of food sup­ply,” Mr Varad­kar said.

EU trade chief Ce­cilia Malm­ström wants to ink a deal this year — or at the lat­est by March next year — which would likely en­tail a big­ger beef of­fer than the 70,000 tonnes cur­rently on the ta­ble. Mr Varad­kar met with Ms Malm­ström’s boss, Com­mis­sion vice-pres­i­dent Jyrki Katainen, last Thurs­day in Brus­sels to dis­cuss the deal.

The talks broke down on the mar­gins of a World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion con­fer­ence on De­cem­ber 10, with Mer­co­sur coun­tries — Ar­gentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay — keen to get a higher beef of­fer, as well as lock in high ex­port quo­tas for su­gar and ethanol.

Mr Ho­gan flew to the WTO con­fer­ence in Buenos Aires to try to keep a lid on the of­fers, but farm­ers’ groups still fear it will go up.

Last year a Euro­pean Com­mis­sion re­port found that a boost in Mer­co­sur beef im­ports would slash EU beef prices by up to 16pc, cost­ing pro­duc­ers around €5bn a year. And Euro­pean meat pro­duc­ers say Brexit will lead the EU’s re­main­ing mem­bers to 116pc self-suf­fi­ciency in beef.

Ne­go­tia­tors have not given up, how­ever, with the pos­si­bil­ity of talks pick­ing up again this week.

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