Nicholson hosts trade debate

Justin McCarthy IFJ, with Crosby Cleland UFU Beef and Lamb policy Chair, Jim Nicholson MEP and Victor Chestnutt, UFU Deputy President.
Justin McCarthy IFJ, with Crosby Cleland UFU Beef and Lamb policy Chair, Jim Nicholson MEP and Victor Chestnutt, UFU Deputy President.

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has hosted a hearing in the European Parliament discussing the prospect of an EU-Mercosur free trade agreement, and what that will mean for Europe’s sensitive agricultural sectors.

Speakers included a representative from the European Commission, experts from the sector and senior MEPs from the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Nicholson said: “The latest round of talks between the EU and Mercosur are taking place in Brazil this week. According to reports, these negotiations are moving at a fast pace and the Commission is keen to have a deal agreed by the new year.

“While producers are not anti-trade, the prospect of a Mercosur agreement could have serious consequences for European agriculture if sensitive sectors – particularly the meat sector – are not adequately protected.

“This is a particularly bad time to consider opening up the EU market to meat from Brazil. Earlier this year, the Brazilian meat scandal hit the headlines, with allegations that some Brazilian companies had been selling unsafe produce, including substandard beef.

“Across all the prospective EU free trade agreements on the horizon at present, it is vital that we get fair deals for local agriculture. From a UK perspective, it is still vital that EU free trade deals are fair and balanced – event though we are leaving the EU, it is highly likely that these agreements will be used at the very least as templates for our own UK free trade agreements post-Brexit.

“Our hearing in the European Parliament this week provided an opportunity for MEPs and stakeholders across Europe to assess the challenges a Mercosur deal may bring, and to send a clear message to the Commission that Europe’s sensitive sectors must be defended.”

Meanwhile, the UFU has said any inclusion of beef quotas within the Mercosur trade negotiations will be a reckless decision.

UFU deputy president Victor Chesnutt said: “Farmers in Northern Ireland and across Europe remain very angry that the European Commission continues to entertain the inclusion of beef within the Mercosur trade negotiations. These are extremely reckless actions from the Commission and are putting the entire beef industry at risk.

“Farmers across Europe produce beef to world leading standards for traceability, animal welfare and food safety. Time and time again it has been shown that the Mercosur states cannot match these standards and this has clearly been highlighted by the recent scandal in Brazil. The continued failure of Brazil to address the concerns that have emerged from this scandal completely undermines any credibility there is in these negotiations and clearly highlights an unacceptable level of dual standards.”

The UFU deputy president added: “If the Commission continues to pursue the inclusion of beef in this deal there can be no doubt of the devastating impact this will have on the European beef industry. This would have an unacceptable impact on family farms, the rural economy, the environment and rural communities.”