EUROPEAN farmers will gain from cheaper imports of animal feed such as soybeans from the Latin American trade bloc Mercosur and greater pork, dairy, fruit, vegetable and processed food exports if they can strike a trade deal, EU Trade chief Cecilia Malmström told MEPs on May 11th.
In a plenary debate in Strasbourg on the Mercosur talks, Malmström told the House she was ‘very aware’ of the crisis in the EU’s agriculture sector and its ‘specific defensive interests’ (particularly beef). But, she said ‘we need to be correct on the figures: 60% of our agricultural imports from the four Latin American countries are soy and feedstock for our own cows and pigs.’
Her comments come despite fears expressed by EU farm lobby groups, who say a surge in agriculture imports from the highly-competitive regional trade bloc would harm producers of sensitive EU products such as beef, poultry, sugar and ethanol. The majority of European countries have expressed major concerns over agriculture in the talks – during a period of low prices for Europe’s farmers – leading to the Commission dropping beef and ethanol from its market access offer.
Commission sources said these quotas would ‘be determined at a later stage.’ The first round of talks is tentatively scheduled in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, in September and the following round expected to take place in Brussels in November.
The new Agriculture Minister Michael Creed made his debut appearance at the Farm Council in Brussels on May 17th. The main item on the agenda was on the relation between agriculture and climate change in light of the Paris Climate Agreement from December 2015.
Farm Ministers agreed that the Common Agricultural Policy, particularly measures to help wildlife and the EU’s rural development programmes, play a key role in mitigating climate change by encouraging good land management, productivity and resource efficiency. Agriculture and forestry are the only two economic sectors that both emit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) through carbon-nitrogen sinks, biomass production and restoration of organic soil, Ministers outlined.
The Council also held a debate on the market situation, but EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan did not table any new measures to alleviate difficulties faced by farmers in the dairy and pigmeat sectors. A more in-depth discussion – including the possibility of a second support package for farmers – will take place at the next Council meeting in Luxembourg on June 27th and 28th.
Farmers in Northern Ireland could see a sharp reduction in direct support, leading to many holdings going out of business, while also losing out on trading opportunities, if the UK votes to leave the EU, Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan warned in a speech in Belfast on May 9th.
Speaking at Queen’s University ahead of the UK referendum on June 23rd, Hogan said EU aid accounts for 87% of annual farm incomes in Northern Ireland.
Without this support, many farms would fail to survive, he said.
The EU’s farm chief also insisted Northern Ireland’s farmers had greater trade opportunities as part of the EU. ‘The EU doesn’t moderate or tame the influence of Northern Ireland – it magnifies it,’ he said.
Farmers have the opportunity to capitalise on over 53 trade agreements, which allow for agri-produce to be exported and imported without any red tape, Hogan said. He also warned of recreating ‘old channels of smuggling across the border’ if trade was disrupted between the two sides due to a UK exit.
• Rose O’Donovan is editor of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS & a regular contributor to the video platform www.vieuws.eu/food-agriculture