The Irish Farmers' Association has called on the Government to not ratify an EU trade deal with the South American trade bloc Mercosur, amid concerns over the potential impact on beef farmers here.
The EU yesterday announced it had reached a political agreement on the deal with the trade bloc, which encompasses Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hailed it as an "historical moment", with the EU saying it will give "European companies an important head start into a market with an enormous economic potential".
With @mauriciomacri, #EU and #Mercosur leaders we stand as proud co-owners of the #trade agreement between the 🇪🇺 and Mercosur. United, we delivered for our people and our businesses - 20 years to the day after negotiations began. Un dia historico. https://t.co/ntPhejUMsE pic.twitter.com/VVgwsj1LQX
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) June 29, 2019
The agreement will now go through a process of 'legal scrubbing' over the next year or two, and a ratification process will then be necessary before it's finalised.
If approved, it will be introduced on a phased basis over six years.
However, farming organisations here quickly raised their objections to the deal, while the Agriculture Minister also raised concerns.
The Irish Farmers Association called it "bad for Irish farmers, bad for the environment, and bad for EU standards".
IFA President Joe Healy said: “This deal represents a backroom deal with big business and kowtows to the likes of Mercedes and BMW in their drive to get cars into South America.
"It is a disgraceful and feeble sell out of a large part of our most valuable beef market to Latin American ranchers and factory farm units."
Deal "could prove catastrophic"
Opposition parties also swiftly criticised the agreement.
Fianna Fáil's Charlie McConalogue claimed the timing 'couldn't be worse' for farmers here.
He said: "The deal has always had the potential to damage Irish farming but combined with the possible loss of trade in the British market as a result of Brexit, Mercosur could prove catastrophic.
“This deal will also have a detrimental impact on the environment.
"It seems ironic that on the one hand the government and the EU talks about reducing our carbon footprint to mitigate climate change, while on the other they have no issue with flying South American beef thousands of kilometres into Europe."
Deputy McConalogue suggested there should be no further decisions on the deal until the "full post-Brexit scenario" is known.
Sinn Féin, meanwhile, criticised the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Fine Gael's Phil Hogan.
The party's MEP for the Midlands North West, Matt Carthy, called the agreement a "sell-out of Irish farmers".
He argued: “Phil Hogan’s description of this deal as ‘fair and balanced’ is an insult to those farmers already under huge pressures.
“There must be an immediate and unequivocal statement from the Irish government that they will use all political and legal means to stop this deal in its tracks."
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed responded to the trade deal announcement by saying he's "very concerned" at the potential impact of the deal on the beef sector here.
He said in a statement: “I am very disappointed that this agreement includes a significant Tariff Rate Quota for South American beef, at a time when the beef sector in Europe is facing significant uncertainty because of Brexit.
"We have made concerted efforts over a long period of time, to minimise the EU offer in terms of beef and while evidence of these efforts appears to have been reflected in the final offer, I am, nonetheless deeply concerned at the potential impact on the Irish beef sector."
However, he added there could be "some opportunity" for other agri-food sectors, such as the drinks industry and dairy sector.
Commissioner Phil Hogan yesterday insisted the deal was "fair and balanced".
He said: "Today's agreement also presents some challenges to European farmers and the European Commission will be available to help farmers meet these challenges.
"For this agreement to be a win-win, we will only open up to agricultural products from Mercosur with carefully managed quotas that will ensure that there is no risk that any product will flood the EU market and thereby threaten the livelihood of EU farmers.”