Wednesday, 10 July 2019
EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement: Motion [Private Members]
The agreement also provides a solid framework to address human rights issues, including with regard to indigenous peoples. The European Commission has begun the official mechanism at EU level to restrict concessions to Cambodia over similar concerns. It is not true to claim the EU does not act.
This is far from a done deal. At this stage, member states, including Ireland, do not have sight of the full deal. It is an agreement in principle, which must now be transposed into a legal document. That process is going to take over two years to complete and Ireland will input into that process. It then has to be voted through by a qualified majority on the European Trade Council and then go through the European Parliament. After all of that, as it is a mixed agreement, our current understanding is that all member state parliaments, including this House, will have their say on it.
The beef quota will only be introduced on a phased basis over six years. This deal might not be fully felt until around 2028. Meanwhile, 113 days from now, on 31 October, there is a real possibility that we will have a no-deal Brexit. If that comes to pass, it will deliver a serious shock to our economy and, in particular, it will have damaging consequences for the agricultural sector. In that context, with serious immediate challenges like Brexit facing us, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. That is why my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will now proceed to ensure a comprehensive independent economic and environmental sustainability assessment is carried out on Mercosur. We have the time and space necessary to do that. The shape Brexit takes, as well as the impact it has for the agricultural sector, will be a key consideration of that assessment.
There is a long way to go on this. We need to go through this agreement line by line, as more detailed information is known, to establish what the exact opportunities and challenges are across the economy. In the meantime, I, together with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, will work to forge alliances with other member states to diminish the impact of this deal for our agriculture sector. The Taoiseach has made it clear that the Government has an open mind on this deal. There are benefits in certain sectors but there are also negatives. We need to determine overall if this deal will be a win or a lose for our economy. We should not lose sight of the fact that in recent years, we have had EU trade agreements with Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and Mexico that have been positive for our agriculture sector, particularly providing for the export of 105,000 tonnes of European beef. Those were good trade deals for our agricultural sector. I fully accept that Mercosur is a difficult one. We are not pressing ahead with this deal. The Government must look at this deal in the round. That is what the economic assessment will do. It will ensure the Government makes a fully informed decision when deciding what position to take when the ratification process on this deal commences in two years’ time.
Until that work is complete, and indeed until we have sight of a final legal text on this agreement, it would be premature for the Government to accept the Sinn Féin motion. I encourage Members, therefore, to support the Government’s amendment.