Belfast Telegraph

Mercosur trade bloc ‘death knell’ for Irish beef sector

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin led critics of the deal.

Cows stranded in a flooded field in County Limerick (Niall Carson/PA)
Cows stranded in a flooded field in County Limerick (Niall Carson/PA)

The trade deal between the European Union and South America’s Mercosur trade bloc signals the “death knell” for the Irish beef sector, it has been claimed.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the trade deal has angered the farming community in Ireland who face increasing pressure from Brexit and climate change issues.

The Mercosur bloc and the EU agreed on a free-trade deal after two decades of negotiations that concluded amid global trade tensions.

The proposed deal will allow imports of 99,000 tonnes of beef, 180,000 tonnes of poultry and 25,000 tonnes of pigmeat.

Mr Martin told the Dail that farming organisations have described the deal as “reckless” and “wrong”.

“In many ways this trade agreement is outdated in that it ignores the impact of Brexit both now and into the future,” he added.

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It potentially signals the death knell of a sector that has suffered unduly in recent times.

“Above all it’s outdated in terms of the climate change issue and it’s beggars belief that this trade agreement has been signed given the change of mindset around climate change.

“The government seems to be quietly acquiescing to this trade deal.

“The response of the government is to reward climate change deniers and people who pay no heed to it and hurting these (Irish) farms who are among the most efficient in the world.”

Government, Climate Change Minister Richard Bruton said there are “gains” in the agreement.

He added: “It underlines the importance for small open economies like our own to have access to markets, particularly growth markets, where we can look to the future to build opportunities.

“Contrary to what Deputy Martin is suggesting, this requires parties to subscribe to the Paris Agreement, it also includes specific issues around sustainability within these countries so there is significant elements of environment protection and in respect of labour law and international agreements.”

Mr Martin accused the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro of favouring development of conservation adding that a hector of land is being cleared “every minute” to create new pastures for cattle.

“This is the uncomfortable truth,” Mr Martin added.

“Don’t tell me they are committed and pledged to the Paris Agreement, that means nothing to these political leaders.”

Mr Bruton accused Mr Martin of “distorting reality”.

The government also faced pressure from Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae.

Ms McDonald accused Mr Bruton of “attempting to defend the indefensible”.

She said: “It can be best summarised as a sell out of Irish farmers and of their families and of rural Ireland.

“It’s beggars belief that at a time when this Dail has stated a climate emergency from a government that has encouraged people not to eat beef unless, it seems, it’s Brazilian, it seems astonishing you would be prepared to sign up to a deal with Brazil whose president has committed to destroying the Amazon and the indigenous communities in order to increase the profits of a few small millionaire beef exporters.”

Mr Healy-Rae said: “What is being proposed does not make sense.

“We here in Ireland are being told to cut our stock of animals and plant trees.

“At the same time the Mercosur deal is being done with countries that do not have the same level of tractability or production standards and they are felling thousands of acres of rain forest to raise the beef they want to trade into our economies.

“It’s crazy what is being proposed.”

Mr Bruton added: “If we want to tackle climate change, it’s not by isolating governments that we feel are not doing their bit, it’s by putting more pressure on them to comply and this is an agreement that will put pressure on these countries to comply with their obligations.”

PA

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