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Focus on issues

  Focus on issues  

The beef sector,
three reasons to really worry about the TTIP

Arnaud Carpon, Terre-net Média

Article published in Terre-net Média/web-agri

From 22nd to 26th February, the 12thround of negotiations between the EU and the US to enter into the transatlantic partnership (TTIP or TAFTA) took place in Brussels. For French agriculture and particularly the beef sector, several factors are giving cause for concern with such an agreement.


Imports will harm the French meat sector

Essentially, the likely opening of quotas for duty free US beef exports to the EU is the main concern. In addition to the EU-Canada agreement that already provides for a 65000 t/year quota, more than 100 000 tonnes of additional carcass-weight equivalents could be imported by Europe. “It is estimated that the United States and Canada will load their quotas with at least 75% sirloin. The quotas discussed correspond to half the European sirloin suckler herd output, explained Interbev in a 2014 impact study. Possibly more if the quota in the final agreement is bigger...

Importing about 200 000 tonnes of US and Canadian sirloin will have a significant impact in the sector’s economy. “American sirloin prices will become price markers for sirloin on the European market”, says Interbev.

Because American farmers, with their lower costs, are more competitive, “such volumes would decrease the prices of young cattle paid to French producers by nearly 10%. Based on the economic climate of 2013, this price decrease would result in a fall between 27 and 66% of adjusted earnings for suckler livestock. 25 000 to 30 000 direct full-time jobs would be endangered, and up to 50 000 indirect jobs within the sector.

Without counting the health and environmental issues in addition to this economic argument.

France is the only one defending its turf

In Europe, France is by far the country with the most to lose on the issue of a meat import quota for US beef because the French beef sector is the most structured and the most important with regards volume and value. With 4.11 million suckler cows, France alone holds one third of the European population. Italy, for example, which imports 72% of France’s weanlings, disregards the possible consequences for the sector. “The Italians are favourable to the TTIP because they see commercial interests in other sectors”, summarized Sophie Primas, Senator of Yvelines, on 16th February during a meeting with representatives of Interbev on the subject. Economist and President of the Observatory of prices and margins, Philippe Chalmain in an interview with Le Figaro, is even more pessimistic: “Agriculture in general does not carry much weight. It no longer represents anything from a political point of view. For France it is economically important, but it is secondary for other countries”.

“France is alone and this is why the agreement will be signed with certain concessions”, fatalistically summarizes Sophie Primas. “The challenge is to minimize the volume that will come to Europe”.

Non-transparent negotiations

As the “12th round” is taking place in Brussels, what are the real issues with the talks? It’s impossible to say because the latest talks are taking place in total opacity.

During questions at the National Assembly on Wednesday, 17th February, the Republican deputy for Yvelines Jean-Frédéric Poisson, explained to his counterparts how difficult it was as an elected Member of Parliament, to check the documents of the European Commission responsible for negotiation. “The consultation of documents is very restricted”, explains MEP Jean-Paul Denanot. If MEPs themselves are struggling to access the information...

For its part, the DG for trade of the European Commission assures it is negotiating the TTIP “as openly as possible”. On its web page relating to TTIP negotiations, it is however difficult to find any explanatory note for the agricultural sector and even less for beef.

Another anecdote on the opacity of TTIP discussions: Wednesday, 27th January 2016, Paris, France, EC representatives organized a “press briefing” for journalists with Jean-Luc Demarty, Director General for trade in Brussels. After having served in several offices and services in Brussels since his beginning with the European Commission in 1988, he is currently at the centre of TTIP negotiations with Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.

Persistently questioned by reporters, Jean-Luc Demarty continually denied throughout the conference, all inclinations that the Commission would use agriculture as a “bargaining chip” in order to gain more favourable concessions from the United States for other industries. But at the end of the conference, he laconically admitted that “a deal needs consensus”, leaving a subtext more explicit than it appears. The same evening, the journalists were informed indirectly that the interview with Jean-Luc Demarty was “off the record”.

Clearly, the European Commission considers that the meeting was organized to "clarify" the reporters on the TTIP, without having the possibility of publishing the remarks made there. The “off the record” aspect of the meeting was obviously not planned and seems clumsy at best. But for such an important issue as the economy of a French sector of excellence, it is rather inappropriate and reflects the lack of transparency with which the Commission plans to open European borders.

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Paris, 18 June 2019