EU Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers travelled to Luxembourg on October 9th to discuss the situation on the main agricultural markets, while trade talks with the Mercosur trade bloc also dominated the agenda.
Following intense negotiations that ran into the early hours of the Tuesday morning (October 10th), the Estonian presidency secured a political agreement on 2018 fishing opportunities for the ten main commercial stocks in the Baltic Sea (including Western cod, central herring, sprat, Riga herring, salmon in the Gulf of Finland, main basin salmon, Eastern cod and plaice).
The December 11th-12th meeting will be more interesting for Irish fishermen when Ministers will hammer out the Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and national quotas for stocks in the Atlantic.
During the wider discussion on the market situation and international trade relations, the French and Irish delegations led the charge - with support from Austria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia - slamming the Commission’s decision to increase market access for beef and ethanol at the latest round of bilateral talks in early October. Ireland’s Minister of State for Food & Forestry Andrew Doyle, standing in for Minister Michael Creed, who could not attend for personal reasons, highlighted the ‘very negative impact that such an approach would have on the EU beef sector, which is currently in a delicate balance.’
‘There is no doubt that the balance would be profoundly disturbed in the event of an agreement with Mercosur,’ which will be further exacerbated by the UK’s decision to split from Brussels, the Wicklow sheep, suckler and forestry farmer stated.
Doyle welcomed the improved market outlook and called for vigilance when dealing with price volatility on international markets. The Wicklow farmer also raised the ‘effects of the considerable volatility in the value of Sterling against the Euro since the UK referendum’ and the potential difficulties on agricultural markets as a result of Brexit.
In specific terms, he referred to the ‘displacement effects that may arise if EU agri-food exports to the UK (such as Irish beef) are diverted to other EU markets on foot of a negative outcome to the negotiations.’
In response, EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan said Brussels ‘could not proceed further into the negotiations without a credible offer on beef and ethanol ... failure to do so would have resulted in blame falling on the EU. We are ready to engage into the end-phase of the negotiations to reach an appropriate balance of our defensive and offensive interests,’ he stated, while the ball is ‘now firmly back in Mercosur’s court.’
But, there are ‘limits to what the EU can afford,’ he said, confirming that the four key exporting countries already export 230,000t of beef to the EU annually (around 75% of all third country beef imports). The Mercosur side should moderate its expectations to what is manageable and acceptable to the EU, he stated.
• Rose O’Donovan is Editor-in-Chief of the Brussels based publication AGRA FACTS and has been following the evolution of European farm policy for over ten years.