The EU is currently negotiating a trade agreement with Mercosur, which if concluded, would be the EU’s largest trade deal to date and four times the size of the trade agreement with Japan. These negotiations are now at a crucial stage, as the Deputy will be aware, after nearly 20 years and 40 rounds of negotiations.
As with any Free Trade Agreement, Ireland – like every Member State – has defensive as well as offensive interests. A Free Trade Agreement with Mercosur would present sectoral opportunities for Ireland in areas such as software and services in telecos, financial services, digital content and travel, engineering products and services, life sciences, food and beverages, and education services.
On the other hand, I am, of course, acutely aware of the potential impact that these negotiations present to the EU’s and Ireland's beef sector. To that end, I wrote to the EU Trade Commissioner as recently as 31st May this year to restate my views, which I had previously articulated at European Trade Council meetings, as well as directly with the Trade Commissioner, regarding the current challenges facing the Irish beef sector. Minister Creed also wrote in similar terms to the Agriculture Commissioner, and An Taoiseach joined the leaders of France, Poland and Belgium expressing our concerns to President Juncker.
Ireland has sought assurances from the Commission that the final offer on beef - an offensive demand from the Mercosur side - will ensure that:
- a tariff rate quota for beef remains low,
- phasing-in periods are extended,
- the Commission continually monitor quota levels taking into account domestic market conditions,
- the composition of beef imports from the region is limited in relation to fresh chilled beef, and
- robust checks are established and monitored at points of import to the EU to ensure animal health and welfare standards have been maintained.
I should also say that Ireland has been, and continues to be, a strong supporter of the EU’s FTA programme since Free Trade Agreements enable our businesses, including those in the agriculture sector, to expand into new markets and creates new export opportunities in support of employment and our continued economic development.
Any final offer made by the Commission in relation to Mercosur will be considered on the balance of the aggregate benefits the Agreement offers our economy as a whole, once the proposed final terms are presented by the Commission to Member States - and negotiations are continuing this week.