An earlier attempt to strike a deal on tariffs was suspended in 2004 after many years of negotiations. Just the talks were suspended not the imports of meat as suggested in the article.
EU producers lose no time in condemning negotiations like this before they start. The consumer seems to come way down the priority list but the fact is that they have had to plan meals differently to cope with the genuine shortages of beef over the years. The UK per capita consumption of beef fell from 19.3kg per annum in 1973 to 16.9kg in 2009. Families have had to switch to much cheaper poultry meat. If we carry on like this, we will see total beef consumption fall further still.
Commentators always seem to forget that in the UK we have always required more steaks and roasting meats than complete carcase yields. There is an imbalance, which has traditionally been met with high-quality imports from these Mercosur countries and Australia. Most imports today are from other EU countries. Non-EU accounts for only 7%. The forecast is that there will be a further increase in consumption of poultry meat in future years, but most of this will be in Eastern Europe and since any new agreement will be phased in over five or 10 years, this is unlikely to upset the market.
Just for the record, a increase in imports of chicken fillets in recent years to meet consumer demand has not resulted in UK prices sagging. In fact, the price increased by 39% between 2006 and 2009.
The whole subject is complex, but we ignore the consumer at our peril. Meat must remain affordable and the EU is a long way from being self-sufficient. So let's give Mercosur a chance this time!
Douglas Brydges, president, International Meat Trade Association