Local farmers have everything to lose

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Europe’s wish to recommence free trade talks with the Mercosur countries of South America is yet another example of the EU’s declining support for those farmers trying to survive on its own doorstep.

The truth is that local farmers have everything to lose and nothing to gain, if such a deal were to become reality. I used to think that free access to South American grain and soya would help to significantly reduce animal feed prices in this part of the world. But given that the on-farm costs of our compound feed rations seem to have little linkage back to world commodity prices, under any circumstances, I have long given up on the ‘cheaper inputs’ argument, where any trade deal might be concerned.

I might have a degree of sympathy for a trade deal with South America were it a case of the EU striving to help the family farmers in that region – of which there are many thousands - get out of the poverty trap. But, let’s be clear about this, a Mercosur deal will only benefit the industrialised farm businesses throughout that region.

Of course, all of this could become academic for us here in Northern Ireland, should the UK vote to come out of the EU on June 23rd. But in the event of us staying in, there is an onus to ensure that all the EU’s political and trade related manoeuvrings must be handled in a wholly democratic manner moving forward. And this brings into question the role of the European Parliament.

Surely it is MEPs alone who should have the final say as to whether or not trade deals of any form can be ratified. In fact, the EU Commission should be charged with the responsibility of going to the Parliament and securing a mandate from MEPs regarding the very principle behind any envisaged deal, long before negotiations get underway with a potential trade partner.

The last two years are proof positive that the EU elite don’t always get it right. Brussels’ handling of the initial accession talks with Ukraine led to a swift response from Russia, one which continues to have a direct impact on the viability of every farming business here in Northern Ireland, never mind the rest of Europe.

Moreover, the EU’s response to the Russian food embargo, in terms of the additional support made available to European agriculture, has been lukewarm to say the least. And this brings me back to the point made at the top of this piece: farming is, indeed, fast dropping down Brussels’ list of priorities.