‘Beef sector is being sacrificed by the EU’

Robin Swann
Robin Swann

Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann MLA has accused the EU Commission of sacrificing its own beef sector and turning a blind eye to double standards after it agreed a trade deal with the South American trade bloc Mercosur.

Robin Swann said he was shocked at some parts of the deal that the EU shook hands with the Mercosur trade bloc on. The bloc comprises Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Mr Swann added: “The reality is that no matter how we look at it this is a bad deal; it’s a bad deal for the EU beef farmer, it’s a worrying deal for the EU consumer and it’s an awful deal for the environment as it will be a huge driver for even faster deforestation.

“The deal - which will see 99,000 tonnes of South American beef entering the European market every year – is also a clear example of the EU turning a blind eye approach to double standards on crucial issues such as food quality and traceability.

“This was a calculated decision by the EU to move away from supporting its beef producers to now prioritise increasing German car sales in South America.

“Anger has rightly been building across a number of the other Member States since the deal was announced a week ago. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the deal is yet blocked, especially when the dangers of South American farmers getting a formal foothold into the European food market are fully considered.

“In the meantime I have contacted DAERA seeking urgent clarity on the matter and whether, with Brexit imminently approaching, there is a chance that at the least the UK beef market won’t be threatened or sacrificed in the same way as every other EU beef farmer has been by this deal.”

DUP MEP Diane Dodds said the deal could only be translated as a massive blow to the affected sectors across the Member States including the United Kingdom.

She continued: “Some agri-food representatives have justifiably described it as a ‘stab in the back’ or ‘sell-out’ of our farmers. It also poses questions as to what future EU discussions with Australia and New Zealand will hold for agriculture.

“For Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan this represents a devastating end to his period in this office. Irish beef farmers will be heavily impacted by such a deal. The reaction has been one of fury from farming organisations in the Republic of of Ireland. If the Irish Government fails to deliver a more pragmatic and constructive approach to the backstop and the United Kingdom is forced to leave on WTO terms this will be a double blow to a sector that relies on the UK as its single biggest market in both value and volume,” Mrs Dodds continued.”

The reality of trade agreements has been laid bare in this deal. Many, during the referendum, claimed that farming and agri food was safer within the EU. Mercosur exposes that claim as nonsense. The opening up of markets will always require a degree of “give and take” but this deal exposes a sensitive sector and one which operates on slender margins. It appears that agriculture within the EU is not the safe haven that many expect - especially under the watch of an Irish Agriculture Commissioner. For those who have the responsibility of negotiating future UK trade deals post Brexit the lesson is obvious and equally important. Sensitive sectors, the quality, safety and traceability of our food should not be put at risk in the rush to open up markets. Our farmers and agri food sector have spent years and gone to great lengths to ensure that we have high quality food standards. We need to maintain that.”

Commenting on the environmental aspects of this deal Mrs Dodds said; “One of the most frustrating elements of this deal is that while our own farmers and indeed those across Europe are being asked to do more to protect and enhance the environment the EU is willing to bring more food in from countries like Brazil where woodland is being actively cleared at an alarming rate. The double standards from the EU are clear to see. Exporting our food production like this can only harm our environment.”