Nicholson issues warning on Mercosur

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Outgoing Member of the European Parliament Jim Nicholson has reiterated his concerns about the potential impact of any trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur bloc of South American countries for local agriculture.

The Ulster Unionist representative and longstanding member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee made the comments as reports indicate that negotiations are entering their final phase.

Mr Nicholson said: “Throughout the intervening period of time I have consistently raised concerns about the impact an additional influx of beef from the South American trade bloc will have on the European market and on Northern Ireland’s farmers in particular. I and MEP colleagues have used every opportunity to highlight problems regarding controls and traceability standards in the bloc’s food supply chain. There are also significant concerns in relation to habitat destruction, workers’ rights and animal welfare standards throughout Mercosur.

“The EU/Mercosur talks have stalled periodically but there has been a renewed focus on reaching agreement from both sides in recent years - the European Commission has even pressed ahead in spite of the so-called ‘rotten meat’ scandal in Brazil in 2017.

“Recent reports suggest that the negotiations are now entering their final phase, discussions I have had with officials in Brussels back these reports up. Furthermore, in the past few days Irish PM Leo Varadkar, French President Emmanuel Macron and their Belgian and Polish counterparts have jointly written to the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warning of the consequences of opening up EU markets to agricultural products from Mercosur. These countries have consistently been to the fore in calling for agricultural interests to be defended in the negotiations. This is a period of change in Brussels, newly elected MEPs will meet in the European Parliament in Strasbourg for the first time on 2nd July whilst talks are underway between the EU’s leaders to decide who replaces Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk and to allocate portfolios to new Commissioners. Given the long-term implications of any trade deal between the EU and Mercosur bloc it is important that the political horse-trading in Brussels doesn’t divert attention away from what is a crucial stage in these long-running negotiations.”