Wednesday, 10 July 2019
EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement: Motion [Private Members]
I commend Sinn Féin for tabling the motion, although the Government will not support it, and I will give good reasons for this in due course. It has facilitated an interesting debate and I acknowledge people from the farming community and farming organisations in the Gallery. Obviously they are concerned about aspects of the trade agreement and turned out in numbers today to protest outside the House.
I found it extraordinarily distasteful of Deputy Mattie McGrath to try to introduce my late colleague, Seymour Crawford, into the debate in what I thought was a most distasteful way. I can understand the Deputy's inclination to run in, turn up the volume and run out but this is a serious debate that will go on for some time and I thought that was particularly distasteful.
I understand the opportunity the motion has given us and the political motivation for it, but it will not make one iota of a difference legally as to whether a deal, which is not on the table now, ultimately becomes a reality. It is a meaningless vote. I want to tell the House why I believe it is meaningless. It is because we are not at a stage where we have a legal agreement in front of us. What we have, and it is worth bearing in mind and I have repeated it ad nauseam, is a deal negotiated by the outgoing trade Commissioner, approved by the outgoing Commission, which has not been ratified by a single Council of trade Ministers, has not been approved by the European Parliament and has not been ratified by single government of any member state or any national parliament. My colleague has alluded to the process of approval at a later stage. What will happen between now and the final transposition of this headline agreement into a legal document is that in the intervening period we will have an opportunity to influence what the detail is of the headline agreement that has been put in front of us. In this sense, I concur with what Deputies Troy, Penrose and others have said, which is that this is not a done deal. I have been at pains repeatedly to say the proposal is not a done deal and we should collaboratively use the intervening period over the next two years to shape the detail. I made the analogy previously that deciding to buy a house and signing the detailed contract are very different realities. What we have an opportunity to do now, in the intervening period, is influence the detail of the agreement.
I concur with Deputy McConalogue and others who have said we support international trade. As a small island economy that exports throughout the world, we are privileged to be part of a trading bloc that negotiate trade agreements. Sinn Féin Deputies and Deputy Boyd Barrett are consistent in one regard - they are repeatedly hostile to international trade agreements that we negotiate and that we are privileged to be part of. When we knock on the door in a trade negotiation as part of a bloc of 500 million people, it is possible to jump to the top of the queue. What the UK will find out very shortly is that even as a country of 50 million people it might be able to negotiate trade agreements with Malawi or other minor nations but it will take its place in the queue for major trade agreements. We export to 180 different countries throughout the world. Trade agreements are the basis on which we do this. Those negotiations are a two-way street. I have said in respect of the proposals in front of us that the detail, notwithstanding the fact there is in all trade agreements give and take, is a difficult deal for the Irish beef sector. The opportunity we need to avail of in the intervening period is to influence the detail so we mitigate, frustrate, thwart - people can use whatever adjective they want - the ambition of Mercosur countries in respect of exporting product to the European Union market.
It is imperative, therefore, that we use the intervening period wisely in terms of agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority and the Food and Veterinary Office. We are awaiting inspection to export additional beef to China. We are awaiting Chinese officials to visit and approve plants. It is hoped this will happen in August. We have the same mechanisms here to use at our disposal to make sure the standards are set appropriately high. If we set standards similar to those we have to meet, we will have a level playing pitch. We need to make sure that there is fair competition and fair trade; we need to have not just free trade but fair trade. People have railed against the fact, and I will not get into a litany about Brazil's environmental traditions, which have been well traduced here-----