Ag interests urge science-based standards for EU trade negotiations
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CHEVY CHASE, Md., Oct. 1, 2014-- Several agriculture groups reiterated their priorities for removing trade barriers to U.S. goods in the European Union during the seventh round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) negotiations at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Stakeholder groups representing several aspects of the U.S. and EU economies involved in T-TIP presented their concerns and priorities during the Stakeholder Forum on Wednesday.
Frances Smith, and adjunct fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the U.S. system has a more transparent approach than the EU when it comes to publishing regulatory proposals and asking for public comments.“The EU system uses the precautionary principle, which allows populist beliefs to evade the science-based rules,” Smith said.
She said genetically modified foods, biotechnology and pesticides are some of the top contentious issues in negotiations with the EU, along with chemicals and pharmaceutical devices.
Instead of trying to converge regulations in the face of many sensitive issues and varying approaches, Smith suggested the trading parties attempt “mutual recognition,” which would ensure all parties have their own safety procedures in place, but that they come to similar results."
Croplife America's senior director of human health policy Clare Thorp promoted the adoption of scientific risk assessment for crop chemicals. “We should not base regulatory decisions involving risk on public perception,” she said.
In November 2013, Croplife released a report outlining potential economic impacts of EU regulations on crop protection products, “Potential Trade Effects on U.S. Agricultural Exports of European Union Regulations on Endocrine Disruptors.” The report estimated that the proposed policies for endocrine disruptors under EU regulations could block more than 40 percent of U.S. agricultural exports to the EU in addition to exports of crop protection active ingredients.
Thorp said a “hazard only” approach is a trade barrier, because it results in a zero-tolerance policy for exposure, “which is impossible to meet.” She said a risk assessment is objective and consistent, and “important to dealing with pesticides and food safety.”
John Wilson of the Dairy Farmers of America, which represents 9,000 member farms, said only one percent of their exports go to the EU. Overall, U.S. dairy export sales were worth $6.7 billion last year.
“We have a serious challenge of getting products into Europe,” he said, including tariffs and non-tariff barriers.
EU dairy tariffs, which average roughly three times the level of U.S. dairy tariffs, have contributed to a $1.3 billion trade deficit for U.S. dairy products, according to several House members in a letter to the USTR earlier this year.
“I can't speak enough about the onerous customs measures and certification requirements that complicate getting dairy goods into Europe,” Wilson said today. “The world is consuming more dairy. It only makes sense for us to have good dairy trade with the EU.”
Geographic Indicators (GIs) for certain foods associated with different countries in Europe are also a problem for U.S. dairy products, Wilson noted.
Consortium for Common Food Names senior director Shawna Morris said during the Stakeholder Forum that EU countries are using GIs as barriers to trade. Morris said bilateral free trade agreements between the EU and other nations indicate how generic terms are being used to grant protections for EU products. For example, “In Canada and South Africa, feta is a widely produced cheese, but both agreements are looking to put in place restrictions on how that term can be used.”
The text of the European Union-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) released last week grants protection to the EU for "asiago," "feta," "fontina," "gorgonzola" and "munster.” Cheese manufacturers that produced those cheeses before Oct. 18, 2013, will be allowed to continue to use those names, but future producers of those cheeses will have to add qualifiers, such as "kind," "type," "style" and "imitation."
"The automatic protection for five cheese names that are generic in Canada, the U.S. and globally is another example of the EU's overreach on geographical indications," said Clay Hough, senior group vice president of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), in a recent press release. "The EU's GI strategy is incompatible with the fundamental goal of a trade negotiation, which is to remove trade barriers-not add them-and allow for greater competition."
Representing the U.S. almond industry at the T-TIP rounds, a Blue Diamond Growers spokesman said over 87 percent of the world's supply of almonds is produced in California. Blue Diamond, which is the world's largest supplier of almonds, said its primary objective is to eliminate all duties on almonds.
The EU holds an annual tariff rate quota of 90,000 tons for almonds, but Blue Diamond noted that this can be filled quickly due to the expanding EU and strong demand for almonds from EU consumers.
“The EU would benefit from a zero duty because almonds would be available to consumers at a lower price,” according to Blue Diamond. “Termination of all duties on U.S. almonds in the EU would result in additional U.S. exports of over $1 billion within 2-3 years.”
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American Meat Institute's vice president of international trade Bill Westman summarized the long list of concerns for the U.S. meat industry at the stakeholder meeting, including sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures like EU's ban on U.S. beef raised with growth promoting hormones and restrictions on using chlorine as an anti-microbial treatment in poultry, which is commonly used in the United States.
“We have no interest in how the EU establishes domestic policy, just don't restrict trade with unscientific measures,” Westman said.
According to the National Chicken Council, TTIP will only be of useful to the poultry industry if the EU removes this barrier that has been in place since 1996.
“It's clear we're not going to get everything we want but we want to move forward,” Westman added. “The proposed negotiations present a rare opportunity for us to reshape international trading systems to the benefit of both economies.”
In support of U.S. state GMO labeling laws, Karen Hansen-Kuhn of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said her group is concerned the rules in T-TIP, particularly technical barriers to trade, “could undermine those important programs at the state level.”
Vermont, Connecticut and Maine passed GMO labeling laws, which have yet to be implemented, and Colorado and Oregon citizens will vote on similar initiatives in November.
In a letter signed by 74 groups, including the Institute, sent to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Monday, they said TTIP rules governing technical barriers to trade could “limit governments' ability to maintain or establish product labels that are not premised on avoiding human or animal health risks, but rather…on providing consumers information.”
The groups, which included Consumers Union, Cornucopia Institute and Greenpeace, said they would oppose any trade pact that “threatens” GMO labeling.
The seventh round of negotiations on the T-TIP agreement began Monday and will end Oct. 3.
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