Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Ian Marshall, says the EU trade deal on offer to the Mercosur countries of South America is an ‘unacceptable risk’ to the livelihoods of farmers in Northern Ireland.
“We are aware the European Commission has tabled an offer that includes an import quota of 78,000 tonnes of beef. This would include high value cuts and beef or further processing. It is also likely that both the pig and poultry sectors would be affected,” said Mr Marshall.
With prices for commodities low across Europe, the UFU president says he struggles to see any logic in plans that fail to recognise the sensitive nature of EU beef production.
“We need to find new export markets, especially with the continued Russian import ban in place. But these proposals run counter to the Commission’s drive to help agriculture through a crisis. We cannot believe Brussels would even consider a trade deal to increase the volume of food imported to the EU – and much of that will be food that does not meet European farm standards,” he said.
Mr Marshall added that there was increasing support for this view, with 20 out of 28 agriculture ministers this week raising concerns in the EU’s monthly Agriculture Council meeting about the need for better protection for European farm and food businesses.
“Farmers in Northern Ireland work hard to maintain world-leading production standards. These reflect consumer concerns over animal welfare, food safety and the environment. Local farmers have invested to make sure they deliver what consumers want.”
Mr Marshall added that these standards do not apply in South America, warning that agricultural superpowers there would use the weakness of their national currencies to stage an export drive into Europe. It is unacceptable that the Commission is even considering undermining European production by completing this trade deal. In advance of the proposed exchange of proposals between the trading blocks in mid-May we will continue to highlight the serious impact this deal could have,” said Mr Marshall