Michael Creed, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the Government of Ireland, talked to Euronews’ Shona Murray this morning in Brussels after the Agriculture and Fisheries Council.
The EU is set for a showdown with Britain over access to UK fishing waters next year.
Both sides will sit down for intensive negotiations aimed at concluding a free trade agreement after the UK officially leaves the block on January 31st.
One of the most contentious issues will be around European trawlers having access to UK waters once the UK has left the single market.
The EU will push hard to regain access to British maritime territory in exchange for UK access to the EU's market of around 450 million consumers.
Irish Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Michael Creed says the EU will 'drive a hard bargain' with the UK during the talks.
Fishing rights will be "critically important" in the context of the free trade agreement, Mr Creed told Euronews.
"We want access to UK waters" he said.
"We have ensured in the withdrawal agreement that fishing is linked with the broader trade negotiations, and that’s critically important, because we have asks here in terms of fishing: we want access to UK waters, Ireland does but so do any other Member States with whom we forged an alliance", said the minister.
Fishers from several EU members states such as Ireland, France, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany are worried at the prospect of no longer being able to fish in British waters if a free trade agreement is not completed.
But the EU believes the UK will have to cave in to its demands over fishing if it wants to benefit from vital European infrastructure, such as financial markets and its open skies agreement with the US.
"The UK has asks as well: they want to passport their financial services into the European Union, they want to open skies, so it’s a quid pro quo here, it’s a trade-off" said Mr Creed.
He was speaking after the Council meeting on fisheries which ended at dawn this morning.
"And we will certainly be driving a hard bargain in respect of our fishing industries", he added.
The incredibly tight deadline of late 2020 to sign off on a formal trade arrangement has alarmed experts who doubt a comprehensive deal can be done within such a short time frame.