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13 March 2008 Edition

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Government must stand up for Irish farmers in WTO talks

Irish famers send a clear message to Mandelson outside the EU Commission office in Dublin

Irish famers send a clear message to Mandelson outside the EU Commission office in Dublin

THE Irish Government must be “vehement” in its opposition to meat imports from outside the EU, Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin told the Dáil last week.
The Sinn Féin Dáil leader was speaking during a special Dáil debate last week on the World Trade Organisation negotiations.
Ó Caoláin said the EU Commission is acting against the interests of the people of Europe by pushing GM (genetically modified) crops.
“The potential danger to Irish trade presented by the approach that EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is adopting in the WTO negotiations is illustrated by the fact that over 60 per cent of our exports and 60 per cent of our imports are within the EU, with approximately 20 per cent of exports going to the United States and over 10 per cent of our imports originating there,” Ó Caoláin told TDs. “Therefore, a comparatively small proportion of our trade is with the developing world.”
The Cavan/Monaghan TD explained that this could change dramatically if the more radical proposals before the WTO come into effect with a potentially massive influx of food produce, particularly beef, from outside the EU, the greater part of that from Latin America.
“That would undermine the entire agricultural sector in the EU and would quite possibly destroy our beef producing sector. There is also the danger presented by further concessions on the importation of lamb from New Zealand.”
The rural deputy said it has been recognised by many economists that the liberalisation of agricultural trade does not bring benefits to developing countries, and least of all to farmers in those countries.

MULTINATIONALS BENEFIT
The Sinn Féin TD said that while some argue that opening the EU to Latin American meat would be an act of trade justice, in reality the only beneficiaries would be the multinational corporations that control the trade and the large ranchers who produce the meat and who do not have to comply with EU standards of animal health and safety, nor indeed with EU standards of worker protection or regard for the natural environment. He said:
“It would appear that Commissioner Mandelson is willing to make those concessions if it will secure an overall deal. This begs the question as to who he represents, given that France and other member states have been strongly critical of his stance on agriculture.”
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that, if the proposed concessions are deemed harmful to Irish farming, as is the general consensus, then Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan and her government colleagues “need to make this argument strongly” and in alliance with other European Union states whose interests are similarly under threat.
“While this may be happening in the corridors of Brussels,” he said, “they should not be behind the door about coming out publicly in the same way as the French Government has so clearly done.”
 
COMMISSION CONTROL
As we face into the Lisbon Treaty referendum, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said, this issue is a timely reminder of how much control over our own affairs we have surrendered to the European Union and to a European Commission that at times appears to act as though it was the sovereign power and not the supposed representative of member states.
“It appears to put the interests of the major industrial nations and of the major corporations ahead of European farmers and of those states more dependent on farming.”
The Sinn Féin TD went on to say that it is interesting to note that the previous week the Irish Farmers’ Association, which has been consistently and enthusiastically in favour of previous proposals on European Union enlargement and centralisation, hinted that farmers and their families could not be expected to support the Lisbon Treaty referendum if their livelihood is being undermined by the EU Commission in the WTO negotiations.
“During the 2003 reform of CAP, farmers were assured by then Commissioner Fischler and by the Commission overall that agreeing to decoupling would satisfy the demand being made through the WTO to reduce the level of direct subsidies tied to production, and that by so doing farmers would enjoy considerably more freedom on what to produce and with some income security provided by the single farm payment. Farmers therefore accepted the reform in good faith. Only now do they discover that what was accepted in 2003 is not only under renewed assault but the EU Commission itself appears to be party to that assault by its stance on the forthcoming negotiations. Farmers therefore have the right to feel aggrieved and to expect that the EU will also act in good faith to defend the reformed CAP.”

GM CROPS
He said that there has been massive pressure on the European Union from the United States Government, acting in the interests of the giant corporations, to license GM products within the EU.
“That has encountered considerable resistance and I understand all polls of popular opinion within the EU to date have indicated rejection of GM food products and yet the Commission has persistently attempted to foist these products on farmers and consumers even though there is no evidence that they bring any benefits and, indeed, much more seriously, there remains considerable doubt over their safety.”
Ó Caoláin concluded by noting that the Greens have affected some change in government policy on the issue and Irish officials no longer consistently vote in favour of every pro-GM proposal but said it is still “a long way from consistent opposition, as is the stated policy of both Sinn Féin and, indeed, the Green Party”.
“It is to be hoped that the Government maintains a close eye on any proposals regarding genetically modified food products that may arise at the World Trade Organisation negotiations and that they oppose any further efforts to liberalise the availability of such products within the EU.”

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