There is no doubt that the beef sector faces considerable challenges in the form of Brexit and the potential outcome from the EU-Mercosur trade negotiations. However, the Government is doing everything it can to ameliorate the potential impacts, including raising the cumulative effect of these developments in its ongoing engagement with member states and the European Commission.
On Brexit, in addition to the range of measures that I have deployed over the past three budgets, including low-cost loan schemes and supports for product and market diversification, I and my officials have been in ongoing discussions with the European Commission about the potential supports that may be required for the beef sector in particular in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Most recently, I met Commissioner Hogan on the margins of last week's Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels to discuss potential options and we will remain in contact as the situation evolves.
With regard to free trade agreements, we must acknowledge that these are very important to Ireland, given our status as a small, open economy. However, our approach to negotiations is informed by the need to make progress in areas where we have offensive interests, and to strongly defend those areas where threats may arise. We are therefore adopting a pragmatic, balanced approach, consistent with overall Government policy.
This approach is evident in our handling of the Mercosur negotiations, where we continue to urge the utmost vigilance, and insist that they are handled in a manner that safeguards the interests of the Irish and European beef sector. I also continue to stress that full account must be taken of the findings of the Commission's own assessment of the cumulative impact of trade deals on the agrifood sector and at the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 18 March, I specifically drew the attention of the Council to the very clear linkage between the inclusion of a beef tariffable quota in any Mercosur deal, and the potentially very damaging impact of Brexit on an already delicately-balanced EU beef market.