EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has confirmed beef will not be part of the current Mercosur trade deal negotiations, a statement that will bring considerable relief to UK farmers.
Mr Hogan made the statement during a visit to Glamorgan NFU Cymru chairman, Abi Reader’s mixed family farm, in the Vale of Glamorgan, on Monday.
At the meeting, Commissioner Hogan said South American beef would be ‘off the menu’ and would be withdrawn from the current negotiations with the Mercosur trading bloc, according to NFU Cymru.
The Mercosur trade agreement talks have been held up as a major threat to the UK beef industry, opening the possibility of vast quantities of cheap tariff-free imports entering the EU from the likes of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
NFU Cymru, which feared the deal could have a damaging impact on specialist beef production in Wales, and the other UK farming unions have been lobbying the Commission directly on this issue with the NFU team in Brussels.
NFU Cymru president, Stephen James said: “Today’s announcement from Commissioner Hogan is reassuring for the Welsh beef sector.
"NFU Cymru has had major concerns with regard to the impact that nearly 80,000 tonnes of additional non-tariff beef would have on beef prices across the EU.
"In Wales we pride ourselves on the production of high quality beef produced to world leading standards and we were concerned that this was going to be undermined by a flood of imports that may not have been produced to the same standards.”
Fay Jones, Parliamentary and Communications Adviser at the NFU’s Brussels office, said Mr Hogan’s comments were a ’big win’ for the UK farming unions.
She said: "We’ve been pushing hard on the inclusion of beef in Mercosur, along with our colleagues in Europe. There has been a wall of noise from European farmers organisations on it so it is really good news that the Commission has listened.
"But there are still concerns; there is a lot of pork and poultry expected to be in deal so we absolutely still need to see an impact assessment, ideally a cumulative one to work out the impact of both TTIP and Mercosur."
NFU Cymru raised other important issues during Mr Hogan’s visit, including the need for CAP simplification to remain at the top of the his agenda.
Rob Reader, who farms in partnership with Abi, presented the Commissioner with the hundreds of pages of guidance associated with the 2016 Single Application Form (SAF), as an example of the complication and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled.
Mr Hogan said his desire was to help people comply with the regulations not catch them out.
NFU Cymru milk Board chairman, Aled Jones, highlighted the cash flow crisis that has engulfed the dairy industry in Wales and urged the Commissioner to consider further how the European Investment Bank (EIB) could be employed to ensure that farmers could continue to invest in their businesses at this difficult time.
The Commissioner said he recognised the horrors that the dairy industry is currently experiencing and stated that he felt that the EIB, working with High Street banks, could have a role to play in helping to provide low cost loans to help farmers restructure their business, in particular those who do not have a strong asset base.
Mr James said: "The Commissioner has fully recognised the market difficulties we face at present and he has shown today with his statement on the Mercosur trade deal, he is willing to take action to support the best interests of our farmers.”