Just as the UK is progressing international trade deals with exceptional speed, the EU is slowing the negotiations down.
In the case of Australia and New Zealand, where the UK concluded trade deals within weeks of opening negotiations, the EU is nowhere near conclusion, despite having opened negotiations in June 2018.
This is partially due to thoroughness and playing hardball on the sensitive areas, including access for agricultural produce to the EU27, but it is also a political decision with particular focus on France.
In the case of Australia, France is foot-dragging since it lost the EU submarine order to the US-UK offer, while the latest thinking in Brussels is that the French have no interest in a trade deal with New Zealand ahead of next spring's elections.
With Mercosur, the deal was agreed in June 2019, but, since then, there have been minimal steps to move towards implementation.
The fact that it was followed by the EU Farm to Fork strategy put a focus on South American production and many, including a majority of MEPs, have taken a strong view that a Mercosur trade deal is incompatible with EU environmental and climate ambitions.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar added to the debate this week saying that the Government wouldn’t vote to ratify it.
That resolve will be tested given the benefit to the pharma sector that would accrue from a Mercosur deal, despite the damage it would cause agriculture.
Contrast between EU and UK
The cautious EU approach to trade deals is the opposite of the UK approach and while the UK has the open-door policy on agricultural access, it matters little what the EU policy is.
This is because if and when the UK market becomes over-supplied with beef and sheepmeat from New Zealand and Australia, British farmers have the option to increase their exports to the EU markets through the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA).
An influx of British product into the EU would have the effect of levelling up the EU and UK markets, even if the EU was to grant no further preferential tariff rate access to the EU27.
To have fairness for farmers, trade policy should be linked to climate and environmental policy.
There is little point EU and Irish farmers being burdened with costly controls that make production more expensive if they are forced to compete with external production that doesn’t carry the same burden.
However, whatever chance there is of persuading the EU on this policy, there is much less with the UK.
Taking a longer-term view, the likelihood is that with current policy of restricting production in Europe while the major external producers and traders in agricultural produce are maintaining or even increasing production, the EU could well move to being an importer of food.
Outsourcing food production would help Ireland and the EU meet their climate targets, but contribute nothing to reduction of global emissions.