Irish anger over beef imports from US

IRELAND - Feelings are running high in the Irish Republic at present over the current state of the beef industry. Returns for prime cattle are running at around £80 per head less than in the UK and the major abattoir operators stand accused of attempting to drive prices still lower.
calendar icon 21 March 2007
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However, of even greater concern is the growing suspicion that Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, has offered a major concession to US producers which would result in granting access to European markets for at least 35,000 tonnes of beef each year as part of his drive to reach an agreement on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations aimed at liberalising international commerce and the removal of many import tariffs. That 35,000 tonnes is reckoned to be the equivalent of 100,000 cattle.

Relations between Mandelson and the government in Dublin have long been strained and the Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, recently expressed his concerns about the commissioner's willingness to stick to his word. This mistrust, according to sources in Dublin, dates back to the time when Mandelson was secretary of state for Northern Ireland. Officials in Brussels yesterday declined to issue any comment other than to state that there are high hopes that a WTO deal can be agreed, possibly later this year.

However, Padraig Walshe, the president of the Irish Farmers' Association, is convinced that concessions have already been made. He said: "I have discovered from high-level meetings and trade contacts in Washington that Mandelson has secretly offered a deal that would benefit US ranchers. This is yet more evidence of the commissioner flying around the world selling out European and Irish farmers in complete breach of his negotiating mandate."

Walshe has now written to Mary Coughlan, the Irish minister of agriculture, demanding that she take up the issue with Mandelson. In any event, Mandelson looks set to be on the receiving end of a hostile reception when he visits Dublin on Friday to attend a major agricultural show. He is due to take part in a panel discussion along with former agriculture commissioner Ray MacSharry, Cees Veerman, who is a past farm minister in the Netherlands, and Professor Robert Thompson of Illinois University.

Coughlan commented: "This will provide an important opportunity for the stakeholders in the agriculture and food sectors to interact directly with the EU commissioner responsible for the vital WTO negotiations."

Source: The Scotsman
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