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US industry gives conditional welcome to EU FTA talks

By Carina Perkins , 07-Mar-2013
Last updated the 07-Mar-2013 at 11:59 GMT

EU sanitary restrictions must be addressed, say US farmers
EU sanitary restrictions must be addressed, say US farmers

A group of US food and agricultural oganisations has praised the Obama administration for launching free trade negotiations with the EU, but has called for any deal to address barriers to US meat exports.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht announced earlier this month that the US and EU would initiate negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TIPP) that would “advance trade and investment liberalisation and address regulatory and other non-tariff barriers”.

However, in a letter sent to the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) earlier this week, a coalition of 64 organisations said that while the negotiations were welcome, any free trade agreement (FTA) “must fit the excellent model established with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)… This means no less than a negotiation that covers all significant barriers in a single comprehensive agreement.”

Raising concerns over a working group report, which suggested the FTA could develop over time, with some barriers left for future consideration, the coalition urged the government to ensure that sanitary and phytosanitary issues were addressed as part of the negotiation, and not left to a future consultative mechanism.

Unjustified restrictions

The letter follows several warnings from the US meat industry that EU sanitary restrictions are currently a major barrier to US meat exports and should therefore be addressed as part of the US-EU trade negotiations.

In January, four US senators wrote to Senate finance chairman Max Baucus insisisting that removing “unjustifiable” EU restrictions on beef, pork and poultry production methods should be a main focus for negotiators. Earlier this week, Baucus wrote in the Financial Times that he would not support the FTA unless agricultural barriers were addressed.

The EU did make some concessions ahead of the negotiations, lifting import bans on live pigs and beef washed in lactic acid, but statements made by EU officials recently have suggested that it is unlikely to budge on other sanitary restrictions, such as the ban on meat fed on growth promotor ractopamine and the prohibition of pathogen-reduction treatments for poultry.

In a speech to Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School Of Government, De Gucht said that resolving regulatory approaches to food would be the hardest part of the FTA negotiations.

However, some areas of the US meat industry remain confident that US negotiators will take a tough line on sanitary issues. Speaking after the the announcement that the US and EU were launching negotiations, the National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council and US Poultry & Egg Association said the USTR had “listened to and accepted recommendations that agriculture and unwarranted non-tariff barriers, especially non-science-based sanitary and phytosanitary provisions, be an important part of the negotiations”.

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