SPEAKING ahead of a European Parliament debate on autonomous tariff quota for imports of high-quality beef, Liam Aylward MEP for Ireland East has welcomed the moves by the US Department of Agriculture to consider relaxing the current import restrictions for cattle and beef that originate in EU countries.
The relevant Memorandum of Understanding between the EU and the USA envisages a process whereby the USA would progressively reduce sanctions applied to EU products while the EU would progressively increase the tariff-rate quota for beef free from growth hormones.
Mr Aylward stated, “The Memorandum on Understanding on beef tariff quota that is being voted in the European Parliament this week was a missed opportunity for Europe to take the lead in seeking a reciprocal trade deal with the USA on beef.
“The moves by the USA last weekend in publishing a draft law aiming to lift the ban in place since 1997 due to BSE show that there is a willingness to re-engage on this issue and the EU should press for a swift opening of the USA market for Irish beef.”
As the USA now has the same OIE BSE status (controlled risk) as Ireland, the reasons behind the original ban have been eliminated. Also the Irish beef industry already fulfilled a number of strict animal health criteria.
“It is a testament to the international reputation of Irish high quality, grass fed beef that the USA have indicated that Ireland could have the ban lifted sooner than other EU countries because of its high standards. With over 80,000 farms producing beef, this sector represents a fundamental aspect of Irish agriculture and our economy,” added Mr Ayward. He concluded, “Ireland has over 800% self-sufficiency in beef and developing and opening new export markets is of fundamental importance. At present only 1% of Irish beef is exported outside of EU markets. Given the importance of agriculture to the Irish economy, we must sustain pressure on securing access to large markets such as the USA and should take every opportunity for reciprocal deals for our farmers.
“Industry experts are indicating that the USA market could potentially be a high end steak-cut market, as this is the market that is directly under threat in the Mercosur Trade deal - which the European Commission is determined the push ahead with - it is essential that the pressure it kept on for a lifting of the trade ban.”
The proposed law is now open for public consultation for 60 days, but no re-opening date after that has been announced. The EU must ensure this is not used as a delaying tactic and that this market opportunity is secured for European farmers.