EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement: Statements

As Members will know, the agreement reached last Friday was arrived at following 20 years of negotiations. First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge how vital international trade deals are for Ireland. As a small, open, export-led economy we very much support balanced international trade. The key word is "balanced". As a Government, we need to go through this deal in detail to see whether it strikes the right balance for Ireland. As somebody who lives on a beef farm, I absolutely recognise and appreciate the very genuine concerns expressed by our farming community in relation to the Mercosur deal. I say very clearly to farmers that the Government hears their concerns and understands them. It is important to recognise that there are positives in this deal for Ireland and significant benefits for Irish exporters in sectors such as business services, chemicals, the drinks industry, machinery, medical devices and the dairy industry, with the reduction or elimination of tariffs and barriers to trade for these sectors.

In 2018, Ireland exported almost €2 billion-worth of goods and services to the Mercosur region. Trade with the region has grown by almost one fifth in the period from 2010 to 2016. Against this level of export trade from Ireland to the Mercosur region, we anticipate that the EU-Mercosur agreement will allow Irish exporters to expand faster and take advantage of new opportunities. Analysis by my Department estimates that a potential doubling of annual goods and services exports from Ireland is possible over the period to 2030. The deal ensures that Irish whiskey and Irish cream liqueur are protected under the EU's GI scheme. It is also important to point out the special provisions for SMEs in the agreement. SMEs benefit most from the simplification of exporting and customs procedures, as the savings accrued are proportionately greater for them. There are also positives for the dairy sector, with tariffs on 45,000 tonnes of product, including cheese, milk powder and infant formula, moving from circa 19% to a zero tariff over a ten-year period, presenting significant opportunities for the sector.

Those are some of the benefits from this deal and it is important that I put them on the record. However, I am not going to stand here and say that this deal is perfect. As I said at the outset, I absolutely recognise the concerns of our farmers. While beef has been in the headlines in recent days, there are also very real concerns in relation to the poultry and pig sectors. Sometimes, it is easy to stand on the opposite side of this House and criticise the Government and play politics with an issue like this. I am from a rural community and have lived all my life on a farm. As a Government, we absolutely fought to achieve the best deal possible for our farmers.

This deal was negotiated at EU level. As a member state, Ireland has raised serious concerns over a long period in relation to beef access. For my part, I raised these concerns at every opportunity at European Council meetings on trade. I also raised concerns directly with the Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström. As recently as 31 May, I wrote to Commissioner Malmström to once again highlight our serious concerns, particularly given the current challenges and uncertainty facing the Irish beef sector in the light of Brexit. There has been a sustained effort across Government in relation to this, with both the Minister, Deputy Creed, and the Taoiseach raising it at the highest levels.

Initially, the South American countries were looking for a beef quota of 300,000 tonnes. The deal on the table offers 99,000 tonnes, and while that is still higher than we would want it to be, it is important to remember that it is less than one third of what was originally sought. That reduction is due to the active efforts made by Ireland and other member states. That 99,000 tonnes will be split between 45% frozen and 55% fresh and is carcass-weight equivalent; this is the whole animal and not just prime cuts.

The agreement ensures that there will be equivalent standards. EU SPS standards will not be relaxed in any way and remain non-negotiable. The highest EU standards will be applied to all imported goods, especially food, so no hormone beef or GMOs will be allowed. I assure farmers that equivalent standards are an integral part of this agreement.

In relation to concerns regarding climate change and deforestation, the Mercosur countries, including Brazil, will have to fully implement the Paris Agreement as part of this deal. If they do not, the deal is void and will fall.

I appreciate that when this deal was announced last Friday, it understandably struck fear within the farming community. It is important to remember that it is far from a done deal. This is an agreement in principle and has to go through a legal process, which could take up to two years. The deal then has to be voted through by a qualified majority on the Trade Council and go through the European Parliament, where the outcome is far from certain. After all that, it is highly likely that more than 40 Parliaments, including this House, will have their say on it. The quota for beef would be on a phased basis over five years, so we are talking about a deal that might not be fully felt until 2028. Meanwhile, we are staring down the barrel of a possible no-deal Brexit on 31 October, which could deliver a serious shock to our economy and in particular have damaging consequences for the agricultural sector. It is in the context of serious challenges such as Brexit that we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. In conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, my Department will proceed to ensure that a comprehensive independent economic assessment is carried out on the Mercosur deal. We have the time and space necessary to do that. The shape that Brexit takes and the impact that has for the agricultural sector will be a key consideration of this economic assessment.

The Taoiseach has made it very dear that the Government has an open mind in relation to this deal. As I have outlined, there are benefits in certain sectors but there are also negatives. We need to determine whether overall this will be a win or a loss for our economy. We should not lose sight of the fact that in recent years, we have had EU trade agreements with Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and Mexico, which are very positive for our agricultural sector and provide for the export of 105,000 tonnes of European beef.

The Minister must conclude. We are on a very tight timescale and we have to allow everybody a chance to come in on this.

I accept that the Mercosur deal is a difficult one, and as a Government we have to look at it in the round. The economic assessment will ensure that the Government makes a fully informed decision when deciding what position to take when the ratification process on this deal commences.

I welcome the opportunity to debate this deal. As per the Order of Business yesterday, it is essential that further time be set aside next week to thrash out this dangerous deal for the Irish agricultural sector and ensure that there can be proper examination and questions. As a party, Fianna Fáil believes that trade is good for the country and has been very supportive of the recent Canadian and Japanese deals.

When we look at this deal, and the impact it will have on the beef sector in particular, there is no doubt it will not benefit the Irish agricultural sector. It represents a tremendous political failure by our Government. It has not ensured that this deal is a balanced one from our national perspective. It is certainly not that.

We are different from many other European countries in that the domestic agricultural sector, and the beef sector in particular, plays a significant part in our economy. It plays a disproportionate and exceptionally valuable part in our economy, unlike in other European countries where the agricultural sector is much less significant. I welcome the representatives here today from the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, the deputy president, Mr. Richard Kennedy, and the livestock chairperson, Mr. Angus Woods. They are here because, as the Minister, Deputy Creed, heard over the last few days, they are extremely worried about the impact this deal will have on the future livelihoods of the farmers whom they represent.

I know the Minister indicated this morning that this deal would have to go through legal processes and would then have to go before the Trade Council for qualified majority voting. There is no doubt, however, that what is on the table now is almost 100,000 tonnes of beef. That would have a massive impact on our agricultural sector. This agreement has been delivered at a high political level between the European Commission and its counterpart in South America. The Irish Government representative on the Commission, Mr. Phil Hogan, was a key part of that process.

I know the Minister will tell us that he has made representations in recent times about the threat this deal poses. From the questions we asked here in the past, however, there is no doubt that it was clear that the Government had accepted the suggested figure of 70,000 tonnes for beef imports that was on the table until some months ago. The answers to the questions we asked clearly show that was something that the Government had accepted. We now see that what is finally delivered is 100,000 tonnes of beef imports. The EU's own impact assessment, which was published in 2016, shows that the impact of beef trade deals would lead to a hit of some €5 billion on the EU beef market and a cut of up to 16% in European beef prices.

The farmers here today and those all over the country who have been expressing their concerns in the last few days will tell the Minister very clearly that this is a hit that they simply cannot take. This situation has to be examined in the context of Brexit as well. European consumption of beef is relatively static and Ireland supplies 102% of the Europe Union's beef needs. If we take Britain out of that equation, then that figure would go up to 116%. We know what that would mean in respect of the pressure on farmers and the downward spiral in beef prices that would cause.

The other key issue which makes no sense is the impact of this deal on climate change. This deal has been the subject of negotiations for 20 years and it predates many of the climate change targets and the threats that will result from the effects of climate change. This deal, however, has come up with an offering that involves taking beef from South America. In Brazil, for example, beef is produced with four times the carbon footprint that it is in Ireland. This is at a time, as we heard earlier, when the European Commission is providing funding aimed at reducing domestic beef production in Ireland.

The beef offering within this deal is something that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, have to resist at all costs. They have to bring about some change in that part of the deal because our agricultural sector cannot take such an impact. It is a tremendous failure that we have found ourselves in this position.

The Minster's opening statement definitely did not fill me or any other beef farmer with confidence. I am a dairy and beef farmer and I know full well the major economic pressure that our sector is under. The Minister also referred to the fact that other trade deals had been made in recent years. It is the case that numerous markets have been opened up for Irish beef. We have sold very little beef into those markets outside of the EU, however. The Minister stated that we had to look at the bigger picture. I interpret that as meaning that the Minister is stating that he is going to sacrifice our beef industry for the sake of other sectors.

She also asked if this deal represented a win or a loss for our economy. Ireland's rural economy cannot survive without our beef industry. It is the cornerstone of rural Ireland. If this going to be another occasion when something adjudged as good for the Pale is also seen as good for the rest of Ireland, then this Government will be neglecting rural Ireland. Our poultry and pig sectors will also come under pressure as there are concessions regarding those areas in the deal as well. We are going to be 116% self-sufficient in beef production in Europe when Brexit happens. It is incomprehensible that anyone would contemplate allowing beef from South America to enter the EU market in this context.

Deputy McConalogue mentioned climate change. This is the issue that is really annoying Irish farmers. They are prepared to adapt to climate change and they know that that adaptation will increase their costs of production. They are, however, prepared to do that because they recognise that climate change is a fact of life. What farmers cannot understand is this two-timing that the Commission is engaged in at the moment. It is agreeing a deal that will help the large industrial powers in Europe and that will be good for the Germans, the French and the Italians as it will allow them to sell their industrial goods in South America. We in Ireland, however, will be asked to tackle climate change while farmers in South America will be able to go ahead and do whatever they want.

There has been much publicity in the past concerning production standards in South America. We are told that there will now be an insistence on adherence to certain standards. A significant amount of South American beef is already entering Europe. This deal will put the final nail into the coffin of not just the Irish beef industry but the European beef industry.

The real issue with the Mercosur countries, as both of the Ministers are aware, is that they have a much lower production cost for beef than we do in Ireland or anywhere else in Europe. Standards in South America are much lower, however. That means that beef can be produced at a lower price compared with EU farmers and as a result South American farmers can undercut the market. The market is what all of this is about. There are also consumer protection issues with this deal in respect of the hormones and pharmaceuticals used in the production process in South America that are banned in the EU.

The problem we have is that the model of farming in the South American countries is entirely different from the model of farming that we have in Europe generally and that we certainly have in Ireland. Livestock farming in Ireland is a managed process. Farmers work with their cattle every day and know them. In Argentina and Brazil, beef farming is based on a ranching model where thousands of cattle are spread over a huge area that is probably the size of a county. In Ireland, we are talking about farms with an average size of 30 ha to 80 ha. It is entirely different. That means that cattle in South America are allowed to roam free. There are no tags, no traceability and no disease prevention. The animals there are treated for various diseases, mainly coming from mosquitoes and other things, en masse with pharmaceutical products that would be banned in Europe. South American beef farmers do not have to register or tag their cattle until 90 days before they are ready to be slaughtered and exported.

That gives us the context of farmers in Ireland compared with those in South America. That is the situation that we have to understand. It is clear that the farm organisations in Ireland and most other European countries oppose this deal with Mercosur. It will allow a sharp increase in the production of Brazilian beef and its importation into Europe with preferential tariffs. The reality is that that will throw the EU beef sector over a cliff. This deal is bad for European consumers because Brazil and other South American countries fail to meet EU standards. The key issues involved are traceability, food safety, animal health and environmental controls. Research conducted by the European Commission Joint Research Centre suggested that if imports of beef from Mercosur countries into Europe were to rise dramatically that would drive EU beef prices down by 16% and would cost the EU beef sector as much as €5 billion in revenue.

The potential impact on Irish beef farmers could be a loss of between €500 million and €750 million. The Minster, Deputy Creed, has already stated that this is a very disappointing deal for Irish beef farmers. The deal is coming at a time when 300,000 tonnes of beef exports into Britain annually are under threat because of Brexit. The Minister has also welcomed the deal and said that it removes tariffs of 28% on Irish dairy products going into the Mercosur countries. The reality is that our dairy industry is already at top capacity. It is already doing very well and there are already major export markets available in places such as China. We do not need to export our dairy products into Latin America, even at reduced tariff rates. The Minister is not comparing like with like and that also has to be part of this context.

In a recent interview in The Irish Times, the Minister also stated that the beef agreement was the sweetener in this deal. I know he was putting that aspect into context, but that tells us where we are regarding the Irish beef sector.

The Irish beef sector, which is on its knees, is being used as a sweetener to achieve a deal that will allow cars and pharmaceuticals to be sold to Latin America. The use of these pharmaceuticals would probably not be allowed in Europe. That is the position.

As has been mentioned, one of the biggest impacts this agreement will have is on the environment. The rainforests in Latin America comprise half of the world's remaining rainforest and represent the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world. It is under threat as it has never been before. This deal will facilitate the aims of a right-wing Brazilian Government which denies climate change and is in cahoots with Donald Trump. It says that it wants to continuously expand into the rainforest and does not want to conserve the environment or protect the native people who live in those areas in any way. The President of Brazil is on record as saying he wants to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. This Mercosur deal involves many contradictions.

The Minister stated that EU standards "will not be relaxed in any way" and that "they remain non-negotiable". That position does not stand up to any logical consideration when dealing with Latin America and the current President of Brazil in particular. Nothing we see coming from that country suggests it wants to meet EU standards. In fact, it is saying it wants to move in the other direction by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and increasing the size of its already expansive cattle herd. It wants to cut down the rainforest to do this and continues to do so apace. In the month of May alone, an area the size of County Leitrim was cut down to make space for cattle ranching. The situation in this regard is absolutely dire.

The Minister also mentioned that the 99,000 tonnes of beef is one third of what had originally been sought, which was 300,000 tonnes. What else would one expect? Parties negotiating a trade agreement always set their targets much higher than what they expect to achieve. I am quite sure the Latin American parties to the agreement were more than happy to get 100,000 tonnes of beef into the European Union.

Another issue which comes into play is the manner in which this trade deal will be ratified. As we know, it will be another two years before it goes through and it must first go to the European Council of Ministers. Will our Minister vote against it? Will the Irish Minister work with ministers from other countries that have expressed doubts about this deal, such as Poland, France and Belgium, to build a bloc large enough to prevent it going through? If it goes to the European Parliament, will Government and Fianna Fáil MEPs vote against it? I assure the Minister that Sinn Féin MEPs will vote against it. Will the Dáil vote on this issue and, if not, why not? Is it because of the Lisbon treaty or the Nice treaty? We need to make that clear.

We need to understand where we are in this regard and make a very firm political choice. Are we going to stand up for the Irish farming community and the environmental lobby around the world or are we going to stand for big business? That is the choice. At this time in the development of global capital, we must state clearly whether we are going to stand with big capital against the environmental lobby and the farming community in Ireland because that is what we are talking about doing. This choice lies with the Government and its Ministers in Europe as well as those political parties which have MEPs. We have to make that choice.

I appeal to the Government to stand firm and to understand that, if the future is to be worth anything for the generations to come, any trade deal must be measured against the 17 sustainable development goals. People all over the world are talking about climate change while we are talking about allowing a trade deal that flies in the face of the sustainable development goals to which this Government and all governments around the world have signed up. This particular trade deal flies in the face of more than half of those goals.

I have already indicated that this deal will have a significant impact on rural Ireland. It has taken 20 years to get the EU-Mercosur deal to this stage and we now have agreement in principle. There may be many a slip between the cup and the lip, as they say. It must be approved by the European Parliament and by a qualified majority of the Council of Ministers. That is a worry. While we can talk about vetoes and so on, our vote may well have little impact on the overall result. We have to see this as an opening shot. We can try to amend and improve this deal.

I have been here for longer than some of those who have spoken. I remember the guts of 20 years ago people were talking about between 70,000 and 75,000 tonnes of beef. That was the idea at that time, as I recall very well. It will be another five to seven years before any of this deal will be implemented so there is lots of time and considerable scope to make changes. There will have to be changes and I look forward to some emerging from the proposed economic assessment.

I will make four short points. It is unfortunate that this whole issue has emerged just before Brexit is finalised. We need to know where we stand with Brexit because, with the way it is heading, there will be significant problems ahead. We know what will become of the British market. The market will be oversubscribed and saturated and there will be less consumption because the British market will not be available. Britain will also bring in goods to replace those supplied by our market. There will also be an impact on the Common Agricultural Policy arising from the loss of Britain's contribution of between €10 billion and €12 billion. These are all serious issues.

The Labour Party has never advocated free trade. We are in favour of fair trade. There is a significant difference. Conversely, many of those involved in industry, particularly the agriculture industry, are firm proponents of free trade. They have taken issue with me many times because we have always advocated market intervention at various points, much to the chagrin of many of those people. Some recent deals have resulted in significant benefits. We have to acknowledge that. If a trade deal is well regulated, it can raise the living standards of workers and consumers not just in Ireland, but across Europe and in the countries with which the deal is made. That has to be taken into consideration.

I am always concerned by the strategy pursued by the United States of America. We now have a man tearing around the world tearing up international agreements. It is time for us in Europe to show that making deals is better for workers and the environment than protectionism. That is what we are seeing and it is the reason I do not believe anything coming from the US.

As the Minister outlined, parts of the economy, including the dairy and pharmaceutical sectors, would benefit from this deal. Not all sectors will benefit, however. In my area, the beef and pig industries will be particularly affected. It is clear that the deal is bad for Irish livestock farmers and the wider meat industry. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has admitted that. It is as simple as that. We all know that bringing beef into a saturated market will present a problem.

Spokespersons have been jumping up and down trying to outdo one another in saying how bad the deal will be for farmers. It will be bad but in addition to roaring and shouting we must have solutions. I told the Minister he should oppose the deal, which is grand but, when he opposes it, where will it go? He will have to work with others to deal with the qualified majority vote, about which I am very worried. The agreement will go through regardless of our opposition because it seems President Emmanuel Macron is happy with it, which is something of a change on his part. This deal must be subject to critical review, analysis and assessment in order that we can see where positive changes can be made. We have to look at the rest of the deal. What alternative will deliver higher wages for workers and lower prices for consumers? What alternative will save the rainforest? We need to get into the detail of the agreement and next week's debate will be very important in that regard. We must get down to the minutiae of the deal.

The inclusion of 99,000 tonnes of beef in the deal is a serious problem for Ireland because we export nine out of every ten animals we produce. The Minister has said that imports under the Mercosur deal will have to meet EU food standards so there will be no access to Europe for beef from animals treated with hormones, for example. That is a concern. Deputy Martin Kenny is right. I was in South America and I saw the ranches that produce this beef. How can we ensure these standards are met? The European Food and Veterinary Office is based in County Meath. It will be responsible for ensuring that low-standard food does not enter the European market. Phytosanitary controls and so on are of great concern. Will they be implemented in time?

The cost base for Mercosur farmers is much lower than that for Irish farmers. I saw that in the ranches where production is extensive. This will make it impossible to compete at market level. Will the 99,000 tonnes comprise premium steaks? Will it be frozen or fresh meat? These are all issues. Will the beef be hormone-free? If it was made up of steak, the industry could close down.

That would wipe it out altogether, which be unacceptable. Can we modify that part of the deal? Quite apart from quantity, can we deal with the issue of quality? The bottom line is that either we achieve changes to the trade deal to protect our meat industry, which has to be our first priority, or we will have to have a very serious conversation with our farmers on financial systems to allow the meat sector to diversify and secure alternative markets. Seeking alternative markets is not easy. When one sees 25,000 tonnes going somewhere, one thinks it is great, but four times that amount is coming in here. We might well see changes to beef production in other EU member states to try to create more space for our beef. I would not rule this out because grass-fed Irish beef has a lower environmental impact and is better quality. It is hormone-free, green and fresh and other member states may well, in light of their industrial bases, see benefits of giving ground to Ireland in that regard. We should try to secure that.

Calling for the scrapping of the deal is great. I am calling for it myself. However, we should be clear and we should not be trying to fool anyone. That is just populism and grandstanding, which are things of which I am sick. One has to get in there to see whether one can make effective changes because if one works global rules right, they will bring significant benefits. I hope, therefore, that what emerges is positive action on the part of our Government to achieve significant changes that will benefit Ireland.

I thank Deputy Penrose for sticking to the time limit. Deputies Paul Murphy and Boyd Barrett are sharing time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

"This trade deal is a double whammy for the planet: it will exacerbate deforestation and encourage the production of big, dirty cars. This might just be the EU's worst trade agreement for the climate". That is the view of Perrine Fournier, a campaigner with the forestry NGO, Fern. Every time these free trade agreements, FTAs, are negotiated, the real character of the European Union is exposed as an organisation which exists to promote the interests of big business within Europe and which pays lip service to human rights, sustainability and the environment, all of which it is willing to sacrifice on the altar of profit. It is an organisation which engages in trade negotiation behind closed doors, with privileged access for big corporations while even governments fail to get access. Just recently, the French Government complained that it did not have access to the latest papers in these negotiations with Mercosur.

A couple of years ago, the EU pledged that it would halt global deforestation by 2020. In the Trade for All strategy of 2015, the EU stated, as it has on multiple occasions, that trade would be used as a lever to promote sustainable development and human rights. All of that is to be sacrificed, however, in the interests of, on the one hand, the big car companies in Europe and, on the other, big ranchers in Mercosur countries, particularly those in Brazil. That is the way these deals work. They can only be derailed by a mass movement from below of people who stand for a very different model of trade based on solidarity, mutual assistance and co-operation. This is a complete disaster for the environment and the halting of deforestation. In the context of the latter, the Bolsonaro Government has put indigenous lands demarcation under the jurisdiction of the agriculture Ministry deliberately to pave the way for the cattle and soy agribusinesses to accelerate their sweep through the Amazon. This deal makes the EU complicit in the extensive attacks on human rights the Bolsonaro Government is carrying out. During the election campaign, Bolsonaro promised to end all forms of activism in Brazil and he has begun to implement that promise since he came to power. This is a disaster for the indigenous people in Brazil in particular because at least 14 protected indigenous territories are reported to be under attack from invaders. In many cases, those invaders are sponsored by the big corporations that want them off the land so that they can raze the forests and use the ground for ranching. The Bolsonaro Government has also abolished 35 national councils of social participation involving indigenous people. That is the logic of the model of trade pursued by the European Union. It is a logic accepted by the big parties, including Fianna Fáil, when it comes to most trade agreements, and it must be resisted from below if it is to be stopped.

This deal should be opposed completely. The Government should oppose this deal if it cares at all and if there is any meaning to its concerns about the environment, the protection of human rights and the protection of the interests of farmers. Any equivocation about that exposes whose agenda this Government and the EU are really championing, namely the agenda of big business and major corporations which could not give a hoot about climate change, the environment, the struggle of our farmers to maintain a livelihood or the struggles of indigenous people and small producers in the Mercosur countries themselves. All of those will lose out as a result of this agreement. That is extraordinary when all of the debate in this country and globally is about the need for emergency action. The Government says it is interested in the climate emergency yet it wants to sign off a deal under which we will export fossil-fuel-guzzling German cars to Mercosur countries in order that they can send us beef which is produced by cutting down thousands of square km of rainforest. Goods will travel thousands of miles to Europe, leading to more greenhouse gas emissions being pumped out, while we send manufactured cars over there to pump out more. This beggars belief. The irony is that the entire country has been gripped by the fear of Brexit but this agreement is Brexit writ large and on a scale ten to 15 times greater in respect of the race to the bottom these deals promote. It is truly shocking.

The Government states that it will carry out an economic assessment of how the deal will impact on our economy. I say, "Farmers of Ireland, beware; the sell-out is coming". Just as the fishing industry was sold out to Europe, farmers will now be sold out for the benefit of certain manufacturers, particularly in the pharmaceutical and medical instruments industries. Farmers across Europe are about to be sold out for the benefit of the German car industry. It is not just about that, however. It is also about the globe. It is about the planet that the Government states it cares so much about. In the past ten years, rainforest covering the same amount of land as Portugal has been cut down. Bolsonaro is stating unequivocally that he is a climate change denier. He does not give a damn about the climate and he is waging a war against the indigenous people, small farmers and small producers, crushing their human rights and cutting down these forests to produce cheap, lower-quality beef for the benefit of the ranchers and major agricultural producers of Latin America. This deal should be opposed root and branch. Anything less is a sell-out.

My final point is a bit of an "I told you so" but it has to be made. This deal is the reason the left opposed the Lisbon treaty and the other treaties that introduced qualified majority voting on global trade deals. We said they would lead to what we see here; an attack on environmental standards and an attack on small producers and SMEs. The chickens have come home to roost on the rotten deals signed up to by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and so on.

On post-European Council statements last week, I used some of my time to discuss the Mercosur deal from a number of perspectives, but not particularly that relating to Irish beef. I will begin now with those general points. The first relates to trade agreements generally and the need to proof them against climate change and the undermining of workers' rights. Free trade agreements include the investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS, which we have debated on many occasions. It is a system which threatens public budgets and the environment. At the heart of ISDS is a mechanism for foreign investors to sue national governments. Recent examples include two oil firms which used ISDS to avoid paying tax in Vietnam and a similar case in Croatia. There was also an example in France where a company was able to weaken a climate change law by threatening an ISDS suit. ISDS is biased in favour of the interests of investors at the expense of the public interest because the public cannot sue the companies involved on human rights grounds.

I would like to mention another aspect of Mercosur to which I drew attention last week. Recently, representatives of over 350 civil society organisations sent a letter to the EU asking it to halt the negotiations on the basis of the deteriorating human rights and environmental conditions in Brazil. In April, 600 scientists and representatives of more than 300 indigenous groups called on the EU to support human rights and sustainable development in light of increased human rights violations and threats to indigenous peoples and their lands in ecologically valuable areas. Civil society in Brazil is under severe threat because of President Bolsonaro's campaign of ending any form of activism. Under a plan he is implementing, the Brazilian Government has the power to supervise and monitor the activities and actions of international agencies and non-governmental organisations in Brazil that are drawing attention to these matters. It is telling that the Brazilian foreign affairs and environment ministers are global warming deniers and the Brazilian department of climate change has been abolished.

We debated climate change last week. Is there any realisation that massive numbers of cattle in Brazil need grazing land? Some of this land is being provided by taking lands belonging to indigenous people and removing forests that are valuable from a biodiversity perspective. At the same time, Irish farmers are being asked to grow more trees. The irony is just in the middle of it. It is totally illogical because we are not being loyal to what we have been saying about climate change recently.

It is incredible that it has taken almost 20 years to get to this point. It is still not right. Twenty years ago, there was little or no discussion about climate change. This is the first area that must be re-examined because of what we now realise. The second area is human rights and labour rights, which should be central to trade agreements. A new business and human rights committee has finally been set up with a chairperson and a meeting is planned. Will that committee have a role in examining the Mercosur deal from a labour rights perspective? That is what the committee is supposed to be doing.

We know what is involved in this deal. The EU is Mercosur's largest trade and investment partner and second largest business, trade and goods partner. The EU is the biggest foreign investor in the area. Mercosur is a major investor in Europe. In the middle of all of this, a trade war is taking place between the US and China. Venezuela was suspended from Mercosur in 2017. We can see that there is a political aspect to this as well.

We are all very concerned about food safety. We do not know enough about what is being fed to cattle in Mercosur countries. The details we have are very disturbing. We know it is going to be challenging for Ireland and for agriculture here. The Irish beef sector is dominated by big farmers. We are conscious of how cattle are fed. It is good to see movement among small farmers, who are becoming more proactive in taking on the big farmers in terms of the kind of meat they are producing. It is possible that there are opportunities here. There is space for the smaller farmers.

The Mercosur deal has been seen as a landmark decision and a truly historic moment. We know that tariffs for the Mercosur countries have been eliminated. There will be increased access to the EU market for agricultural goods from those countries. There will be an improved export environment for the EU. There is a perception that agriculture is the trade-off to facilitate the gains being made elsewhere.

If the forthcoming Argentinian elections bring change, it is possible that Argentina will not stay in Mercosur. The opposition leader, Alberto Fernández, has said that there is nothing to celebrate in the agreement, but lots of things to worry about. As we know, there are concerns throughout Europe.

Many advocates of trade deals use all the usual clichés in pointing to the liberal economic agenda, referring to trickle-down economics and suggesting that growth equates to prosperity. We know trade deals like this one prioritise the interests of large multinational companies above all else. That is essentially what this deal is doing. It is disappointing that it has taken a trade deal that affects agriculture in this country to bring about a reasonable conversation on the merits of trade deals. This issue had gone off the agenda.

It has been suggested that the German car industry is at the centre of this. There is a belief that this deal is a back door for EU cars to get into South American countries. Much more scrutiny is needed in this regard. The number of people working in the lobbying industry in Brussels is 30,000 and counting. According to one critic, it is like an invasion from the corporates there. We know how much influence this €1 billion industry is having on legislation. We need to be aware of all the lobbying that is going on and of whose interests are being looked after and whose services are being paid for.

I would like to share time with Deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Michael Collins.

Over the last week or ten days, I have read and followed closely the ministerial comments about the Mercosur trade deal. There seems to be a conflict. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, tried to sell the deal when he took Leaders' Questions in this Chamber yesterday. He did this in his answers to Deputies Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald, as well as myself and others, from the moment he stood up until the moment he sat down. He said many times that the deal had to be looked at "in the round". He said that the deal had positive aspects, but I do not believe that to be the case. It is a negative deal for our farming community. It is wrong for an Irish Government to try to promote such a deal by suggesting it has positive aspects. I am fully aware of the other aspects of the trade deal.

It would be totally negligent for any Minister for agriculture, Taoiseach, other member of the Government or backbench Deputy who supports the Government to say he or she would support this deal. It would be a sell-out of Irish farmers, who work hard to produce quality beef. The excellent product they produce has no hormones and can stand up to any traceability requirements. The record of our farm produce stands up favourably to what we will be getting from South American countries.

I was disappointed when the Minister, Deputy Bruton, let the cat out of the bag yesterday. I am not sure whether the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, agrees with him. I would love it if the Minister, Deputy Creed, would contradict me in this regard. Maybe he will stand up here today, on behalf of the farmers he represents, and say he does not agree with the deal. He is from a farming community. He is not some townie who rolled up to Dublin. I know where he came from. His feet are on the ground. I trust him and rely personally on him. I am worried he will take the Government line, which is that there are positive aspects to the deal and that it has to be examined. It is rubbish to talk about evaluating it. I advised the Minister yesterday to ask any farmer who is trying to produce beef for his evaluation of the deal. All such farmers will tell the Minister that they are not making money. They will make even less money as a result of this deal.

I am glad to have an opportunity to highlight what farmers are saying to me about this deal. They are very angry. They are on their knees and have been for all of this year and a good part of last year. Today, the factories will not even take beef. The farmers have to wait 30 days for the factories to accept animals. The Minister knows how much that is costing. Farmers are in a trap or vice because of Brexit, the Mercosur deal and the activities of the factories. They are facing extinction. The Government is suggesting that there is some good in this deal, but there is no good at all in it for farmers in rural areas, including the area between the Minister's home town and the county bounds.

From the county bound back to Slea Head, Valentia Island, through Kenmare, Sneem and Cahirciveen, and on the other side of Kenmare Bay in Bonane and Lauragh, they are predominantly beef and suckler farmers. They are facing a wipe-out if the Minister does this and allows beef in from South America where they are cutting down the rainforest.

Commissioner Hogan and, I believe, the Minister mentioned that farmers must cut production and plant forestry. Forestry will wipe out the rural communities forever because when 1 acre or 100 acres is planted there is no life in that side of the country. To think that the Minister is even dreaming of doing this is terrible. The Government is already making farmers feel guilty for producing beef. The Taoiseach has said he is doing his bit to reduce the carbon footprint. We can prove that our animals are reared in green grass up to their eyes. In Brazil and Argentina they have humps on them and are in dirty dusty yards with troughs around them. We are doing it the right way.

In its programme for Government this Government promised to ensure the national interest would be protected in any future trade discussion with a particular focus on beef and safety standards. This Government has failed on both counts in the Mercosur deal which looks like it will allow 99,000 tonnes of beef into the EU each year from the Mercosur countries. My concern is that if we use beef from these countries, where already there are traceability and safety issues and the environmental standards are below EU standards, the beef industry will face decimation and the safety of the public will be at risk. If this Government agrees to a Mercosur deal, it will wipe out beef farmers throughout Ireland.

My calls for stand-alone Ministers for agriculture and the marine, respectively, have been criticised by the Government. Both it and the European Commissioner, Mr. Phil Hogan, are asleep at the wheel. Apart from kicking the can down the road past the next general election, what concrete steps will this Government take to protect the beef industry and the public? My colleagues in the Rural Independent Group are calling on Fine Gael to table a motion on this deal next week. Irrespective of whether this happens, we will be calling on Fianna Fáil to bring down the Government immediately. It has to fall because if rural Ireland is to be saved from further ruination under the most arrogant and anti-rural Government this island has ever seen, this is the only way out. Next Wednesday, the Beef Plan Movement, which has 20,000 members, will lead a protest to Leinster House. These are beef and suckler farmers who are on their knees. Despite having 20,000 members, the movement feels it has no voice.

I asked the Minister last week about the €100 million to be spent. He has spoken to the affected farmers previously but he told me he had spoken to them about how the €100 million that is coming will be spent. He needs to correct the Official Report in that regard. These farmers have not spoken to anybody and they have asked me who, if anyone, the Minister spoke to about this funding. The importation into Europe of 99,000 tonnes of beef from the Mercosur countries is a public safety issue and I am calling on the Government and Opposition parties to ensure that all beef on sale in Ireland and the rest of the EU meets current EU standards.

The announcement on Friday last of an EU-Mercosur trade agreement marks the end of 20 years of negotiations between the two blocs. While I acknowledge the importance of balanced international trade deals for Ireland's economy, including its agricultural sector, I am disappointed that the agreement includes a significant tariff rate quota, TRQ, that would allow the importation of beef from Mercosur to the European Union at preferential tariff rates, at a time when the beef sector in Europe is facing significant uncertainty because of Brexit. I and my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, along with others, have worked hard with colleagues in other member states to mitigate the potential impact of a Mercosur-EU agreement on European agriculture. While the outcome is disappointing, the length of time it has taken to arrive at this point is at least in part due to the concerted efforts over many years and by many governments of Ireland and other like-minded member states to protect the European Union agriculture sector to the maximum extent possible. In addition to pointing out the considerable difficulties that the concession of a significant beef tariff rate quota would create for the Irish beef sector over a period when the EU beef market is likely to continue to be very delicately balanced, and against the backdrop of a potentially very damaging impact from Brexit, Ireland repeatedly called for a coherence between the European trade policy's objective and its climate change responsibilities to be demonstrated by not extending more favourable conditions to beef imports from trade partners that are producing in a less environmentally sustainable manner. We have focused not just on these market impact and sustainability aspects but also on the size of the quota, the technicalities associated with quota management and the cumulative impact of potential concessions under the range of current and future negotiations in order to mitigate the outcome of these negotiations.

The beef TRQ agreed is considerably less than had been sought by Mercosur countries, which at one point were demanding a quota of 300,000 tonnes. In addition, the TRQ is split between fresh and frozen and will be phased in over several years. As such, if the agreement were to be implemented, its full impact is unlikely to be felt for a considerable time. We must also acknowledge that there may be some opportunities for other sectors, including the dairy and drinks industry. In addition, our colleagues at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation estimate that a potential doubling of annual goods and services exports from Ireland is possible over the period to 2030.

It is early days yet and there are still several steps to be taken before the agreement can be implemented. It will first be put through a process of legal drafting and translation which could take several years. It will then be submitted to the Council for approval by a qualified majority vote and then to the European Parliament for its consent. If provisionally applied at that point, it would still take several years to come into effect. The Oireachtas and other national parliaments will also have a role in ratification. We will examine the text carefully to assess its impact on the Irish economy and on the agrifood sector generally and reflect on the appropriate next steps in terms of engaging further with member state colleagues and examining ways to diminish the potential impact of the agreement.

This is an agreement between an outgoing Commission and Mercosur countries. It is a deal that has not been ratified by any member state or government, the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament or any state parliament. There is some considerable distance to travel, as Deputy Penrose reflected quite accurately. Members have rightly alluded to the environmental concerns around our systems of production relative to those of South American countries and in particular Brazil and the Bolsonaro government. The very fact that within this agreement there is for the first time in a trade agreement a chapter that makes environmental standards a critical issue is an opportunity for us. We can use that and in the intervening period ensure the drafting of the agreement double-stitches that in and so thwarts the ambition of those countries if their environmental standards do not meet the standards required of European farmers. It is a deal breaker. While I do not wish to celebrate the lack of environmental ambition or commitment in those countries, that this is an issue we can use to our advantage should not be overlooked. No agreement has been ratified by anybody yet.

From an agricultural point of view, I consider the deal to be deeply disappointing. I acknowledge that there are opportunities in other areas, including in some respects the drinks industry and dairy sector, but overall in terms of the rural economy and the impact on the beef sector and the 100,000 who gain some element of their income from that sector, it is deeply disappointing.

There are Members in this Chamber who have consistently opposed every trade deal while, at the same time, refusing to acknowledge that the European Union has been a champion of environmental standards and workers' rights. This deal, which is the first that has included a specific reference to environmental standards, may well be an opportunity for us. There is a considerable way to travel and, as Minister with responsibility for agriculture, I will exhaust all opportunities. We are not without friends in this debate. Other member states have expressed serious concerns. The French, in particular, who have concerns about beef, have expressed reservations about sugar and ethanol. We will forge alliances and work to ensure that in the intervening period we salvage the best possible outcome from what is proposed.

I appreciate Deputy McConalogue's point about Commissioner Hogan. In all my dealings with the Commissioner, I have found him to be an ally in trying to mitigate the worst excesses of this deal. I remind the House that working collaboratively with him, the lead negotiator, the Commissioner for Trade, is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, which is aligned with Fianna Fáil.

I thank the Members for their contributions. I was particularly delighted to chair this debate. It was also great to see leaders of the farming community in the Visitors Gallery.