15 March 2002

Attack on Argentine beef in EU

By Philip Clarke

FARM commissioner Franz Fischler has come under attack for proposing that more Argentinian beef be allowed into the EU market.

"This is particularly galling considering that farmers in Britain and Europe are just beginning to recover from the worst disaster ever to befall agriculture – foot-and-mouth," says MEP Robert Sturdy in a letter to the commissioner. "We should not be allowing more foreign imports at this time."

The announcement followed a recent meeting between the commissioner and Argentina farm minister, Miguel Angel Paulon. Dr Fischler said the extra quota was needed to help the South American country recover from its current financial problems.

"Argentina is suffering a major economic and social crisis and Europe has promised to help," he said. "In the light of this I will propose the opening of an import quota of 10,000t for quality Hilton beef."

But Mr Sturdy says this is another nail in the coffin for farmers. "I was under the impression that charity began at home," he said. "How ironic that the EU harms itself while dispensing favours to others."

He is also critical that the EU should be reopening its doors so soon after Argentina suffered a major F&M outbreak.

Irish farm leaders have added their weight to the criticism. "It is absolutely ridiculous that the EU commission is planning to allow increased Argentinian imports when beef prices are still so depressed," said John OLeary, chairman of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Associations beef section. "Irelands traditional main market, Egypt, still has not taken beef, yet the EU sees fit to allow more imports in to undermine us."

Argentina already enjoys an annual Hilton beef quota to the EU for 28,000t, which carries a 20% import tax. This compares with 11,500t for the US and Canada and 7000t for Australia.

"It is often overlooked that the EU is Argentinas main trading partner, with an agricultural trade deficit amounting to k2.8bn (£1.7bn)," said Dr Fischler. "In the negotiations for a free trade area we want to go further. The EU has proposed to dismantle tariffs worth k2.2bn (£1.3bn), additional to the trade already taking place duty-free.

"This would establish a duty- free total of k8bn (£4.9bn), or 90% of the current agricultural trade." &#42