Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA) chief executive Conall Donnelly believes that the decision by the European Commission to increase the beef import allocation allowed for under the terms of a proposed trade deal with the Mercosur trading block of South America could do irreversible damage to Europe’s red meat markets.
“The latest move by Brussels would see the tariff-free beef import ceiling granted to Mercosur increasing from 70,000t per annum to 99,000t,” he said.
“This is an extremely retrograde step. It also raises the question of why Brussels would even consider allowing in beef imports from Brazil, given the scandal which rocked that country’s red meat industry less than 12 months ago.”
The Livestock and Meat Commission’s Colin Smith agreed.
“Falling consumption levels in tandem with more beef coming into the EU could create a perfect storm, in terms of pressure coming on to EU beef markets.
“I have just returned from Brussels, where I attended a number of EU Commission-hosted briefings on the state of Europe’s food markets. There is now growing concern about the ongoing downturn in beef consumption levels.”
“The good news story for the local beef industry, however is the ongoing the commitment of livestock farmers here in Northern Ireland to produce beef of the highest quality, which is fully certified courtesy of the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme.”
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said that the latest proposals by the European Commission to concede further on beef in a bilateral trade deal with the Mercosur states suggests a final deal is imminent.
Mr Nicholson said: “I have long said that the European Commission is on a precarious path, and this latest proposal suggests that the European Commission and the Mercosur states are edging ever closer to agreeing a final deal.
“The impact of any final deal will be widely felt across Europe, including the UK, and the price to be paid will be the beef industry. There is no guarantee that the European market will be able to absorb the imports of cheap South American beef, which highlights the sheer risks the European Commission is taking.
“And it was no more than a year ago that the revelations of the beef scandal in Brazil emerged, where companies were found to be selling unsafe produce and rotten meat. Back in November I hosted a hearing on Mercosur in the European Parliament and it provided an opportunity for MEPs and stakeholders to discuss the deal. Unfortunately, the concern which was widely expressed to the Commission seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
“The Commission appear to be blind to the severe impact any EU-Mercosur deal will have, the impact will certainly be exacerbated if the Commission does not defend the most sensitive sectors.
The MEP added: “From discussions I have had, the feeling I am getting is that a deal is imminent, and unfortunately, despite lobbying by myself and others I fear that the Commission has not thought out the effects any deal will have.”
Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Barclay Bell, says that an attempt by the EU to increase their offer on beef to 99,000t in the EU-Mercosur trade talks is completely unacceptable, adding:
“Such an agreement would have a devastating impact on European beef production and warned that the UK beef industry is also at threat.
“The EU Commission has already conceded far too much to the South American bloc. There seems to be no regard for the impact on food safety standards or the economic impact on European farms. These countries have no interest in adopting European traceability standards. They do not comply with EU animal welfare standards and Brazil, in particular, has not dealt appropriately with a huge food fraud incident involving rotten meat.
“When you factor in unsustainable environmental practises these countries adopt in their food production systems, it really is incredible that the European Commission deems these proposals acceptable when it clearly wouldn’t be for any EU Member State,” said the UFU president.
Mr Bell beleieves the whole situation reeks of desperation.
“Clearly the EU Commission is under pressure to do business no matter what the cost is.”