IRELAND is one of thirteen countries vehemently opposed to a trade deal with the Mercosur regional bloc of Latin American countries that includes key beef-exporting giants Brazil and Argentina.
The coalition of like-minded Member States, including France, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Greece and Romania, rejects the inclusion of sensitive products such as beef at this early stage of trade negotiations. Sensitive sectors such as beef and pork should not be on the table, as such a move is counterproductive and ‘reckless’ on the part of the Commission, they outline.
In a letter in early April, outgoing Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney wrote to EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström expressing his concern about the potential impact of a deal on domestic beef production: ‘The proposed renewal of the Mercosur negotiations comes at a very sensitive and a very difficult time for European agriculture and European farmers, and the evolution of the process needs to be carefully considered.’
Our publication AGRA FACTS was actually the first to publish the draft market access figures, which indicate the EU is planning to offer an annual so-called Tariff Rate Quota of 78,000 tonnes of beef to the Latin American bloc, a move which farmers warn will flood the EU’s market with cheap imports threatening the European livestock sector. Both sides are expected to exchange market access offers in the second week of May, with the first round of negotiations tentatively scheduled for September after nearly a decade of start-stop negotiations.
Open for business
EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan is currently embarking on the second leg of his ‘diplomatic offensive’ to key growth markets in China and Japan. The EU Farm chief departed for Shanghai on April 16th – having already spent a couple of days in Astana, Kazakhstan – and continues his travels to Beijing (April 18th and 19th) and Tokyo (April 20th and 22nd).
During the trade mission, Hogan has pledged to raise the issue of non-tariff barriers to trade (especially in meat and dairy) and promote high quality agricultural products with his Far Eastern counterparts. Hogan is accompanied by a business delegation with representatives from 63 companies and trade associations from fifteen Member States including Ireland, France, German, UK, Poland and Sweden – with a combined turnover of more than €107 billion.
The successful business representatives from the likes of Ireland’s Bord Bia, Glanbia and Ornua, as well as big brands Moët Hennessy and Prosecco, will hold face-to-face meetings with their Chinese and Japanese counterparts and accompany Hogan at two events launching ‘European Restaurant Week’ in Beijing and Tokyo.
The EU’s Farm chief insists boosting European farm exports is the key to assisting farmers amid the current slump in prices for commodities such as pork and dairy products, a situation Hogan describes as a ‘perfect storm’. Speaking to reporters in the margins of the Luxembourg Agriculture Council on April 11th, he said the trade mission was ‘all about putting companies in touch with their counterparts to emphasise the high quality of European foods’ and aimed to ‘open doors for our exports.’
One of the reasons for the current farm crisis is a steep drop in demand from China, with dairy buyers exiting the market in 2014 after accumulating significant stockpiles. Market signals show investment in new production capacity has declined, with sales beginning to recover since early this year.
DG AGRI figures indicate a significant increase in European dairy exports to China in the first couple months of 2016, Hogan said, expressing his hope of getting a ‘clearer pictures of the potential demand for European products.’ In the long-term, affluent markets in Asian countries like Japan and the abolition of China’s ‘one-child policy’ should provide ‘enormous potential’ for Europe’s farm products, Hogan insists.
The Kilkenny man is planning another trade mission to Indonesia and Vietnam at the end of October in an attempt to trade the EU out of the current farm crisis.
• Rose O’Donovan is editor of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS & a regular contributor to the video platform www.vieuws.eu/food-agriculture/