Of­fi­cials hope to bridge gaps in Mer­co­sur talks

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE -

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”.

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