Officials hope to bridge gaps in Mercosur talks
EU negotiators are hoping that a break in Mercosur trade talks this week will allow both sides some breathing space to come up with new offers.
The EU is putting pressure on the South American trading bloc to increase market access for European cars, dairy, protected food and drinks and maritime services.
But Mercosur countries have so far resisted, demanding the EU lower tariffs on imports of South American beef, ethanol, sugar and other agricultural goods.
“The European Commission remains committed to an ambitious and balanced trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur,” a Commission spokesperson said.
“We have to continue to try to bridge the remaining differences and reach a mutually beneficial outcome, while recognising each other’s sensitivities.”
Ireland and a group of at least 10 other countries have been lobbying to limit the EU’s offer on agricultural products, particularly beef.
The last formal offer — in October 2017 — saw the EU agree to lower tariffs on 70,000 tonnes of South American beef and 600,000 tonnes of ethanol imports.
EU sources say that an increase in the beef offer is likely, with a figure of 99,000 tonnes being touted as a potential figure.
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed was in Strasbourg last week to meet influential MEPs, including the heads of the agriculture and trade committees, where they discussed Mercosur.
IFA president Joe Healy was in Brussels, where he put pressure on agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan not to “give away any more” on beef.
He said trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström “has already capitulated to the Brazilians” and should not increase the EU’s beef offer. EU negotiators head to Paraguay next week to resume negotiations and “try to bridge the remaining gaps”, the Commission said.
“Technical meetings” between EU and Mercosur negotiating teams ended in stalemate in Brussels last week following a ministerial meeting on January 30.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil TD Charlie McConalogue said there are different viewpoints on the Mercosur deal from Irish Government departments.
He pointed out responses to parliamentary questions showed the Department of Enterprise is open to the principle of having beef in any final deal but any quota must be structured.
However, Minister Michael Creed in the Agriculture Department stated it was “very consistent in expressing Ireland’s very grave concerns about the offer of a beef tariff rate quota of 70,000t and were determined this would not be exceeded”.