Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan has said she has serious concerns about the threats to farming in current proposals for negotiation to liberalise world trade.

Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers Association has called on the Minister to veto what it calls the 'reckless and disgraceful destruction of the Common Agricultural Policy' by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

Negotiations on freeing up the rules governing international trade have been going on for seven years, and it is expected there will be a big effort to find agreement over the next two months.

But Minister Coughlan has already signalled she has major problems with recent proposals. Her concerns include cuts in supports for farming, and the impact of imports to Europe from countries outside the European community.

The Minister said she is determined that EU agriculture must not be sacrificed to get a world trade deal.

Ms Coughlan is in Brussels for a meeting this afternoon of farm ministers. Before lunch she met Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel separately, as well as 14 other ministers who object to current proposals.

The IFA meanwhile has launched a strong attack on EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, accusing him of trying to sell out the Irish beef industry in current negotiations on world trade liberalisation.

IFA President Padraig Walshe has called on Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan to veto Mr Mandelson's plan.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Walshe accused the Trade Commissioner of sacrificing Irish and European farmers and the food industry in a race to the bottom on animal welfare, food safety and the environment.

Mr Walshe said the cost to Ireland of the Mandelson offer to the South Americans is over €2 billion, with not a single gain in return. He said cattle prices would be halved to €1.60/kg, devastating the Irish beef industry.

The IFA president said the only winners in the Mandelson agenda are multinationals, commodity traders and corporate ranchers. He said the consequences of a deal would wipe out Ireland's 1.2m suckler cow herd, with huge farm losses, job losses in food processing and the elimination of Ireland's unique extensive grass-based beef production.

Agreement reached on farmer payments

Other news to come out of Brussels talks today includes Ms Coughlan's announcement that most farmers in the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, are to get their payments shortly.

The subsidies had been held up since January because of a move to make the payments after work completed had been inspected, rather than at the start.

Following talks in Brussels this morning, Minister Coughlan said agreement was reached  that Ireland could continue as before in paying farmers in phase two and three of the scheme at the beginning of each contract year.

Discussions will continue about payments to farmers under phase four.