Imports of South American beef could be set to double if controversial EU proposals to help poorer countries are approved.
EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has outlined plans to reinvigorate the stalling Doha round of trade talks by making a number of concessions to help developing countries export to the EU. These include slashing tariffs on beef and dairy products and increasing import quotas.
Although the measures are being billed as helping poor farmers in struggling African countries such as Namibia and Botswana to reach lucrative EU markets, a source close to the talks said that South American meat-producing giants such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay - developing nations in trading terms - would be the real beneficiaries. EU agricultural representatives believed the EU was giving too much away without getting much back in return, the source added.
Currently about 450,000 tonnes of meat are imported to the EU, but this could reach one million tonnes depending on the extent to which tariffs are reduced.
The products from South America would most likely be higher-value products that would compete directly for supermarket shelf space with home-produced meat, said Peter Hardwick, international manager for the MLC in Brussels. As the imported meat was cheaper, retailers might be tempted to favour it over British." If you ease the restrictions, those who benefit will not be the poor countries but those with mass scale," said Hardwick. "Countries such as Brazil are highly developed in meat production."
The proposals have infuriated European farmers, with 500 producers protesting outside the EU offices in Dublin last Thursday and calling on Mandelson to go.
Irish farmers claim Mandelson's "concessions" could cost agriculture in the Republic at least €2bn. Irish agriculture minister Mary Coughlan has also signalled her unhappiness and has indicated that she would work in collaboration with President Sarkozy of France to oppose any deal damaging to agriculture.