I appreciate that we had a discussion on this matter yesterday and I am sure we will have more engagements on it after Question Time. Such debates reflect the significance of the issue.
On the evening of Friday, 28 June, the European Commission announced that political agreement had been reached on a trade deal between the European Union and Mercosur countries. As a small open economy, Ireland is supportive of international trade deals. However, I am concerned about the impact elements of the deal could have on the beef sector. At a time when the beef sector in Europe is facing significant uncertainty because of Brexit, the agreement includes a significant tariff rate quota for South American beef. Over the full 20-year history of the negotiations, we have worked closely with member state colleagues and engaged directly with the Commission to make concerted efforts to minimise the EU offer on beef. While evidence of these efforts appears to be reflected in the final offer, I am deeply concerned about the potential impact on the beef sector. There may be opportunities for other parts of the agrifood industry such as the dairy sector and the drinks industry, but we will need to examine the text carefully to assess the full impact. It is worth noting that the agreement will not come fully into effect for some years. First, it will go through a process of legal scrubbing, which could take up to two years. Subsequently, it will be put before the EU Trade Council for ratification by qualified majority vote before being put before the European Parliament. If the agreement passes these hurdles, it is expected that the trade elements which fall under the competence of the Commission will be phased in over six years.