The Ulster Farmers’ Union says the EU-Mercosur trade-deal is a “slap in the face” to farmers and is particularly problematic for Northern Ireland’s beef industry, adding further uncertainty for the future.
UFU president, Ivor Ferguson said: “The EU-Mercosur news is another huge blow. Agriculture has effectively been sacrificed in order to seal the deal, so that the likes of BMW and Mercedes can gain access to South American markets.
“Food production in Mercosur countries is very different to Northern Ireland. It happens on a significantly larger scale and has much lower environmental and welfare standards. The increased environmental impact elsewhere in the world means the EU is essentially exporting its environmental responsibilities, which is morally questionable.”
Mr Ferguson says the deal creates a significant double standard when it comes to trade and a disastrous, uneven playing field for farmers.
“Producing high quality food comes at a cost and input expenses, such as labour, in Northern Ireland are much higher than in Mercosur countries. At the very least, imports should have to meet the same high standard in terms of production. Our farmers will struggle to contend with cheaper food imports and there is the very real risk we’ll be pushed out of, what is an already, fiercely competitive market,” he said.
One of the most concerning aspects of the agreement will see 99,000 tonnes of beef enter into the European market each year at a reduced tariff.
Mr Ferguson said: “Our beef farmers are already facing an extremely challenging market. The inclusion of generous beef quotas within the Mercosur trade deal is a reckless decision especially as the EU beef market is on the verge of being oversupplied.
“The deal undermines the hard work that farmers do on a daily basis to maintain world-leading production standards for traceability, animal welfare, food safety and the environment, which addresses consumers concerns about where their food comes from and how it is produced. We produce beef to world leading standards and the recent scandal in Brazil is just one example of how production quality is miles apart. The trade deal presents a double standard policy which is discriminating.”
The UFU says it is not opposed to international trade deals and that the EU is likely to remain a key market after Brexit.
“We want to continue our trading relationship with the EU. However, this agreement puts Northern Ireland food production and everything that we stand for at stake. This deal has made the future of Northern Ireland agriculture all the more uncertain and will have a severe impact on family farms,” said the UFU president.