High Stakes in Mercosur Talks

UK - British beef and poultry farmers face huge potential financial losses if free-trade talks between the EU and South American countries do not recognise the high production and welfare standards that UK farmers adhere to.
calendar icon 11 May 2010
clock icon 4 minute read

The NFU has expressed its grave concern after the EU Commission agreed to re-launch negotiations with the Mercosur trading bloc. It believes that increasing levels of imported beef and poultry could impact negatively on the EU beef and poultry industries, as well as on consumer confidence.

NFU livestock board chairman Alistair Mackintosh was particularly concerned about any increases in imports of beef from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

He said, “Livestock farmers here accept that there will always be competition from other countries to supply consumers but at the same time it is absolutely vital we have a sustainable and profitable EU and domestic production base.

“I see no good reason why we should jeopardise the financial and environmental benefits that EU beef production delivers to the whole of the European supply chain from producer to consumer. And I cannot accept competition which doesn’t take into account the higher standards of animal welfare and environmental conditions that we adhere to throughout the EU. Any deal which does not require South American imports to meet British and European standards will not only be bad for farmers but also consumers, who rightly expect their food to be produced to high standards.

“I am proud of the quality and standards we produce to in this country and I have always believed that production both domestically, and in the EU, has the potential to meet European demand. Given the right signals beef producers across Europe will rise to the challenge.”

NFU poultry board chairman, Charles Bourns, said, “Trade liberalisation might sound tantalising to EU trade commissioners but floods of cheap South American poultry meat is the last thing we need at this point in time. UK broiler growers are cautiously reinvesting and investing in UK production based on evidence that UK consumers are choosing quality assured British chicken. The 2009 NFU poultry housing age survey demonstrated that farmers have been unable to invest in their businesses for the past ten years due to poor returns from the market. To kill off these green shoots of optimism now would be a disaster.”

NFU head of economics and international affairs, Thomas Hind, said, “The EU is already a major importer of agricultural products from the Mercosur countries. Successive reforms of agricultural and trade policy means that Europe’s farmers are increasingly open to global competition. While multilateral trade agreements that are concluded through the World Trade Organisation ensure reciprocal benefits for opening our markets on a global scale, bilateral agreements such as this between the EU and Mercosur offer no such guarantees or common rules. The Commission obviously sees a potential export market for goods and services.

"Against this, we’re running the real risk of sacrificing the welfare standards, environmental protection, and ultimately sustainable production base that Europe’s farmers currently provide.”

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