Farmers Group Icmsa Slams ‘self-centred’ Drinks Firms for Pushing South America Trade Deal

24/3/2017 Farmer Pat McCormack, Vice President ICMSA photographed on his farm outside Tipperary town. Photograph Liam Burke Press 22

Farmers have clashed with drinks makers over the EU’s long-running bid to ink a trade deal with the South American Mercosur group.

One farming group called Irish whiskey makers “jaw-droppingly self-centred” after they pressed for a swift conclusion to the Mercosur deal, along with their EU counterparts, earlier this week.

Pat McCormack, the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), which represents family farms, said there were “bigger considerations” in the deal than expanding market access for Irish whiskey.

“I think we all know that if a farm organisation was to publicly call for a trade agreement on a similar self-centred basis, then the media would throb with condemnation and accusation,” Mr McCormack said.

“The Mercosur agreement will have consequences that go well past the marketing wishes of whiskey distillers; it can’t be just the farmers who are told that the environment must now be the first consideration.”

A deal with the South American Mercosur bloc – Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – was signed in 2019 but has never been enacted. Negotiations have now dragged on for 23 years.

Talks made some progress after four Mercosur nations pledged to sign a side deal with the EU committing to more sustainable food and feed production, and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she wanted to finalise a deal by the end of this year.

We all know that if a farm organisation was to publicly call for a trade agreement on a similar self-centred basis, then the media would throb with condemnation and accusation

Irish farmers have long opposed the deal because they fear a glut of cheaper beef imports into Ireland and the EU, which they say are not produced according to the same high standards as European products. The draft deal allows for tariff-free imports of 99,000 tonnes.

Ireland imported around 26,000 tonnes of beef in the first six months of this year, a 20pc increase on the first half of last year.

France also opposes the deal, but Spain, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency until December, is in favour.

Environmental group Greenpeace has called the deal a “nightmare for nature” because they say it will encourage Amazon deforestation as land is cleared for beef and soy production.

Animal feed, including soy, is one of the EU’s biggest imports from the Mercosur countries. The EU mainly exports machinery, chemicals and cars to the bloc.

“Every single reputable environmental agency and NGO that has looked at this has concluded that the envisaged increase in South American beef exports that is the driving motive for the South American states supporting Mercosur will guarantee even more legal and illegal forest clearances, with utterly catastrophic implications for climate ambition and ruinous consequences for the indigenous people often terrorised off their lands,” Mr McCormack said.

“I genuinely think that, set against those depressingly predictable results, calling for a Mercosur agreement so you flog more whiskey in South America starts to look very, very self-centred and short-sighted, to put it mildly.”

The comments come after Brazilian and EU spirits makers issued a joint statement this week pressing for a deal by the end of the year. It was published by spiritsEUROPE, which counts Guinness owner Diageo and Jameson owner Pernod Ricard as members.

Source: Irish Independent