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Irish farmers trade 'yes' vote for favourable WTO deal

Latest update : 2008-06-07

Ireland's leading farmers' union threatened to oppose the EU reform treaty until they got assurances that trade negotiations would not go against their interests, arguing that 50,000 jobs were at risk in Ireland alone.(Third of three part-series)

Read our three-part series on the Irish referendum

1. Irish referendum to seal the fate of EU reform treaty
2. Economic woes threaten simplified EU treaty
3. Irish farmers trade 'yes' vote for favourable WTO deal (below)


Ireland's 85,000 farmers may hold the key to the June 12 referendum on the Lisbon treaty in Ireland. Although their numbers have been declining steadily, Irish farmers are among the country's most assiduous voters – and the Irish government took their threat to vote "no" very seriously.

Although 40% of them said they would vote yes in a poll published by the Irish Farmers' Journal on May 15, another 27% had not yet made up their mind.

More than three quarters of the respondents also said they would take guidance from the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), the country's leading farming union, before they make their final decision. At that stage, the IFA had withdrawn its support for the treaty in protest at a proposed World Trade Organisation deal on agricultural goods.

On June 3, the IFA finally agreed to back the treaty after its president, Pádraig Walshe, met the taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen. According to Irish media reports, the government committed to use its veto against any unfavourable WTO agreement.

“In January, we said that Irish farmers would be best served by a yes vote, at the heart of Europe,” Walshe told FRANCE 24. But since then, the European trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, has been making concessions on agriculture in a bid to rescue the Doha round of world trade negotiations.

According to the IFA, the 50% to 73% cuts now on the table in the WTO would attract massive agricultural imports from developing countries and destroy 50,000 jobs in the Irish agri-business sector.

Arguing that “Lisbon can be revised, but the WTO cannot,” the IFA ran a powerful campaign and withdrew support to the Lisbon treaty in retaliation. Around 10,000 farmers marched in Dublin on April 17 as the European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, visited Ireland.

“Farmers have done very well out of the EU in the past, but we look to the future”, Walshe said. “If that WTO deal goes through, it shows Europe's commitment to agriculture is gone.”

Date created : 2008-06-05

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