Why were beef farmers protesting in Dublin today?

South American bloc Mercosur is set to be given greater access to the EU market in a proposed deal. Irish farmers say that's a problem

Why were beef farmers protesting in Dublin today?

Beef farmers outside the offices of the European Commission in Dublin | RollingNews.ie

The EU and South American bloc Mercosur are scheduled to set out the terms of a proposed trade agreement this month after more than a decade of on-and-off talks.

But the deal, which is likely to include tariff rate quotas for beef, could have big repercussions for farmers in Ireland. 

An upcoming exchange of formal offers between both sides is expected to outline the duty-free access each is prepared to allow for sensitive products, including beef. 

However, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, which demonstrated against the agreement outside the European Commission office in Dublin today, opposes any move to open up the EU to Mercosur exports.

The group is concerned that providing beef-exporting Mercosur members with access to the European market will cripple the Irish beef industry - given that more than 90% of the country's beef production is exported to the EU.

The EU has reportedly offered Mercosur an annual beef import quota of 78,000 tons - a move the ICSA claims the Irish beef industry will not be able to withstand.

The farmers' group fears the EU-US trade deal TTIP, which will allow American beef exports into the EU, will also damage Irish producers. Protesting in Dublin today, it accused the EU Commission of "selling out" the EU farming sector.

Regulations

Patrick Kent of the ICSA said the proposed TTIP and Mercosur deals will see cheap beef products without the same cross compliance checks as Irish products flooding the European market.

Producers that are not subject to the same regulations as European farmers should not be entitled to free access for their exports, he said.

However, the European Commission views the Mercosur deal as an opportunity to strengthen economic and political links with Latin America. 

The EU body says a comprehensive agreement with the bloc will remove barriers to trade in services and customs procedures, benefiting both sides. 

The agreement will also improve market access for EU companies, which pay over €4 billion in tariff duties a year when exporting to the Mercosur countries, it has pointed out.