US, Russia and Asia push EU agri-food exports to record high in 2017
Despite a slowdown in December, full-year trade figures for European agriculture and food show the highest surplus ever recorded.

The EU exported €137.9bn worth of food, drinks and agricultural products last year, a 5.1% increase on 2016, the latest figures from the European Commission show.

The data puts Ireladn's performance into perspective: at just under €13bn, Irish agri-food exports from one of the smallest of the EU's 28 member states are equivalent to one-tenth of European sales – although much of Ireland's exports are of course destined for other EU countries.

2017 saw both the highest value of agri-food exports in the history of the EU and the largest trade surplus. Imports grew too, led by feed ingredients, tropical fruit, and coffee, tea and cocoa, but more slowly than exports. This left a €20.5bn gap in favour of EU exporters (9% larger than in 2016).

The fastest-growing destinations for EU food and drink were the US (up €1.2bn, or 6%) and Russia (up €892m, or 16%). Asian markets including Japan, China, Hong Kong and South Korea also recorded strong growth.

Turkey and infant formula

Several markets and product categories are of particular interest to Ireland, such as Turkey, which saw a 14% rise in agricultural exports from the EU last year – growing numbers of live Irish cattle are included here.

Milk powders (+26%), infant food (+11%) and spirits and liqueurs (+5%), all key Irish exports, were among the best-performing categories.

While EU beef exports to third countries remained small compared with other products at €818m last year, increasing market access as sanitary bans slowly lift around the world saw a near 18% jump in European beef sales to third countries last year.

The value of grains exported by Europe saw the only significant fall, with wheat exports down 27.5% and other cereals down 13.5%.

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EU warns member states to prepare for border inspections
Member states and private parties have been asked to step up preparations for all Brexit negotiation outcomes.

As the new Brexit secretary for the UK Dominic Raab meets with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier for the first time, the EU has issued guidelines to member states that indicate what steps need to be taken in the event of a no-deal scenario.

The UK will become a third country in March 2019. In the absence of an agreement between the UK and the EU, strict food safety rules and border checks will kick in. These will apply to the UK the same as any other third country exporting to the EU.

“Physical infrastructures will have to be put in place to allow all movements of live animals and animal products (including foods of animal origin), and certain plants and plant products, to go through border inspection posts at seaports, at airports or at land,” the EU communication released on Thursday reads.

Joint effort

The news follows the Irish Government’s cabinet decision on Wednesday to hire 1,000 new customs officers and veterinary officials.

Preparing for the UK's withdrawal is not only the responsibility of the EU institutions, the commission said. It is a joint effort at EU, national and regional levels, and also includes, in particular, economic operators and other private parties.

The commission spokespersons were also asked about Mercosur negotiations at a press briefing on Thursday, which prompted a very limited response. It was confirmed that talks were still ongoing today and would likely conclude this round today, but no further information was released and an official statement is not expected from Commissioner Malmstrom.

With reporting from Phelim O'Neill.

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Beef not to blame for Mercosur stalling

Beef not to blame for Mercosur stalling
Failure by Mercousr countries to deal with access to cars, car parts and dairy is the cause of no deal this week in Brussels.

The European Commission is not satisfied with the progress that is being made on the proposed Mercosur deal, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has said.

Commenting on the prospects of a Mercosur trade deal being closed, he said: “We’re not satisfied with the progress that’s being made, so there will be no deal this week.”

The possibility of an imminent deal had been hyped in the lead-up to this week’s round of negotiations, but the reality was that internal divisions in Mercosur meant that the issues tabled by the EU in Buenos Aires last December have never been properly addressed. These include access to the Mercosur countries for cars, car parts, dairy and recognition of geographic indicators (GIs).

The issue of access to the EU for Mercosur was parked until these were resolved.

Pressure mounts to protect CAP budget
Germany has joined efforts to preserve CAP funding after 2020, but remarks from a Dutch farm leader explain why some countries are still reluctant to fund the current level of farm payments.

German Minister for Agriculture Julia Klöckner has signed a public declaration with her French counterpart calling for “the stabilisation of the CAP budget at its current level”.

This means reversing the 5% cut proposed by the European Commission for the period 2021-2027 because of a Brexit shortfall and competing priorities.

Germany joins the alliance of 20 out of 27 EU remaining countries led by France and Ireland who “highly regret” the proposed cuts in a joint memo launched in May.

MEPs too have drafted a strongly worded opinion to be adopted after the summer break. The Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament suggests that the next CAP budget should be “at least at the level of the 2014-2020 budget for the EU-27 in real terms”, taking into account inflation-adjusted cuts estimated to hit 15% under current proposals.

“Agriculture must not suffer any financial disadvantage as a result of political decisions, such as the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU or the funding of new European policies,” the draft opinion states.

Around five countries, including the Netherlands, still refuse to increase their contributions to make up for the €10bn annual shortfall left by Brexit. Marc Calon, president of the Dutch farmers union LTO, said last week that the CAP budget was not a worry for his members.

“In the Netherlands farm income is on average 14% from subsidies,” he said. This compares with 56% in Ireland, where the IFA has made the defence of CAP funding a priority.

“You cannot explain to taxpayers that you will have to pay more and more for farmers,” Calon added. “You can try, but you will lose that fight.”

IFA president Joe Healy said the strong support from the agriculture committee on the next CAP budget shows momentum is building on what is a core issue for Irish farmers.

European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan remarked this week that if countries could not agree on increased contributions to the EU budget to maintain CAP funding, they could still reallocate funds to agriculture from other policies. “It’s a matter of political choices,” he said.

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