A draft trade deal between the European Union and Mercosur bloc of South American countries has put Ireland's government under intense pressure from farmers and opposition parties concerned over the impact on the country's beef sector.
Mercosur struck its first major pact on Friday in its deal with the EU, but the potential boost to South American beef exporters angeredIreland's large beef sector, which is already under strain due to Brexit.
The Mercosur deal is also meeting resistance in the EU's largest farming power, France.
The Irish Farmers' Association said the deal will decimate the Irish beef market by allowing cheaper South American cuts into the EU. The group's national livestock chairman, farmer Angus Woods, said the effect was potentially even worse than Britain's exit from the European Union.
Farmers' concerns have dominated newspaper frontpages and proceedings in parliament when it sat for the first time this week on Tuesday. The main opposition Fianna Fail said the deal signaled the "death knell" for the industry.
Taioseach Leo Varadkar said on Monday the government will conduct a full economic assessment of the impact the entire deal will have on Ireland, adding it would vote against it if the risks outweighed the benefits.
That followed an intervention from Agriculture Minister Michael Creed who said Dublin was not without allies on the issue, naming France, Belgium and Poland as countries Ireland had teamed up with previously to raise concerns.
"What you have is a Commission in its last hours agreeing a deal that no member state or national parliament has agreed. It is a bad deal, there is no point in saying otherwise, it's a bad deal for the beef sector," Creed told national broadcaster RTE.
As one of the smaller members of the 28-member bloc, Ireland would need fellow member states to form a blocking minority if it sought to reject the deal, as ratification will eventually be put to a qualified majority vote.
While French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday the draft deal was "good" and had met key French demands, his foreign minister said on Tuesday that it remained to be seen whether it met those demands.
For Ireland, the pressure from the powerful farming lobby comes after it quelled protests from beef producers by reaching a deal with the EU to compensate them for the fall in prices suffered as a result of the Brexit process. (Reuters)