Tomorrow (Thursday) will see farming organisations from across Europe and North America gather in Templepatrick to assess the possible implications of the pending Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement.
These discussions will take place under the aegis of the 37th North American - European Union Agricultural Policy Congress.
This is the first time that the event has been held in Northern Ireland: the Ulster Farmers’ Union is the hosting body.
Union Chief Executive Wesley Aston confirmed that the congress will allow farming leaders from both sides of the Atlantic to highlight their hopes and concerns for the envisaged TTIP arrangements.
“Europe is totally committed to opening up new trade agreements with all of the world’s major economies,” he said.
“In my opinion TTIP will, almost certainly, become a reality at some stage in the not too distant future. The EU has recently agreed a comprehensive trade deal with Canada. So it makes strategic sense for Brussels to look at securing similar arrangements with the United States.”
Aston regards potential US beef imports into Europe as the biggest threat to Northern Ireland under a TTIP agreement.
“Red meat is at the very heart of the agri economy here in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“And we export the vast bulk of the beef we produce to GB and the rest of Europe. So it is crucially important that the final TTIP agreement does not harm the prospects of livestock farmers in this part of the world.”
But Aston also confirmed that a trade deal with the United States would present Northern Ireland’s agri food sector with significant exporting opportunities.
“And, obviously, we want to capitalise on these,” he stressed.
“Only a very small proportion of the food that we produce is exported to the United States at the present time and anything that can be done to improve this situation is a good news story for farmers here in Northern Ireland.”
The hosting of the Transatlantic congress coincides with the confirmation that Canada has reopened its market for imports of European beef from 19 EU member states.
The Canadian market has been closed to any EU beef, including deboned beef, since 1996, when Canada introduced import restrictions on meat of ruminants on the basis of BSE concerns.
The 19 Member States that have now been authorised to resume exports are the same that had access to the Canadian market before the BSE ban came into force - they are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Commenting on this recent development EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan said: “We welcome the decision by the Canadian government to re-open Canada’s market for imports of European beef from 19 EU Member States.
“It will provide a welcome boost to Europe’s beef producers and exporters, particularly as it comes at a time when farmers across the EU are going through a particularly difficult period.”