The EU’s beef industry faces unprecedented challenges if it is sacrificed with over generous concessions to reach a trade agreement with the Mercosur block, MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness has warned today.
Speaking in Brussels McGuinness said she was deeply concerned that attempts were being made to “condition” thinking on the scale of the likely offer to be made on beef. “There is a deep suspicion that figures are being manipulated so that minds would be conditioned to expecting a figure greater than what will finally emerge. This is being done with the intention that when the lower figure emerges it would give rise to feelings of relief,” she said.
But, she said, it was necessary to repeat loudly that EU beef production cannot withstand imports of low cost beef from Mercosur countries. “Nor should EU consumers face purchasing beef that does not meet our high production standards. We can see from the recent Brazilian meat scandal that there are vast differences in European and Brazilian standards with regard to traceability and transparency of the food chain,” she said.
Ms McGuinness has already highlighted the potential impact on the Irish beef sector to Jean Claude-Juncker, President of the European Commission. And she has sought the exclusion of beef from the final agreement with Mercosur.
She said there is pressure also to agree a mandate for a trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand. “Here there is also real concern about the impact on the agriculture sector, adding to the fears about Mercosur. Indeed we are also concerned about the future in a post Brexit scenario with the UK intent on doing new trade deals, which may impact negatively on the EU market. Europe is engaging in an ambitious trade agenda which has intensified since Brexit.”
The MEP said that high European environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards must be met in all agreements. “We must be able to have confidence in our food supply chain. As consumers we expect that this chain is sustainable and the products are of the highest quality.”
She said the European beef sector is particularly vulnerable in these negotiations with Mercosur. “There is a strong argument to exclude beef and other sensitive agriculture products from this and future trade deals where we know damage will be inflicted on our farm sector, but the voice of agriculture needs to be strong in this debate as non-agriculture sectors push for trade deals to be done.”
The Commission has identified beef as a sensitive sector in its own report that looked at the cumulative effects of 12 future trade agreements on Europe’s agri-food sector.
The MEP added that the Parliament’s Agriculture committee will deliver its view on a potential negotiating mandate with New Zealand and Australia this Monday in Strasbourg.
“I and many other colleagues have warned of the consequences for European agriculture and rural regions arising from these future trade deals,” she said.