Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue was adamant in his comments to reporters today that the myriad ag issues that separate the U.S. and European Union be negotiated in upcoming trade talks, but EU officials again said that wouldn’t happen.
“Well, I think that’s very one-sided,” Perdue said when confronted with reports of EU officials saying ag would not be included in the talks that President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed on last week. “I’ve not read that report, but frankly that’s not keeping with our understanding. The announcement was between President Trump and President Juncker that these discussions would begin.”
Trump and Juncker, standing side-by-side in the White House Rose Garden, announced an agreement last week that the U.S. and EU would enter into talks to settle trade disputes and “work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods.”
The joint text of the statement went on to say that the U.S. and EU “will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans.”
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva today reiterated EU contentions that agricultural policy will not be a part of the trade talks.
The word "agriculture" does not appear in the joint text, she stressed at a Brussels press conference.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was non-committal on the subject this morning when he was asked by reporters if agricultural issues would be included in the upcoming talks.
“We haven’t begun the talks yet, so it’s very hard to describe,” he said, “but agriculture is very, very important to the president.”
But Perdue expressed certainty that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would demand that the EU negotiate divisive ag issues such as the EU’s ban on ractopamine and growth-promoting hormones in talks that are hoped to result in a cessation of new tariffs.
“While they may love for agriculture to be outside that scope, it’s very much in our interest to address that with the EU, particularly on non-tariff barriers that they continue to promulgate,” Perdue said.
While the word "agriculture" is indeed not in the agreement signed by Trump and Juncker, the word "soybeans" is there and that remains a contentious point.
Juncker did pledge that Europe would import more soybeans this year, but that is already happening and purchases are expected to increase further because of the trade war brewing between the U.S. and China, which is now levying a 25 percent tariff on American soybeans.
Chinese importers have drastically increased their reliance on Brazil’s soybeans, pushing up prices for the South American crop. That is encouraging European importers to rely less on Brazil and look for deals on U.S. soybeans.
“And the European Union is going to start, almost immediately, to buy a lot of soybeans - they're a tremendous market - buy a lot of soybeans from our farmers in the Midwest, primarily,” Trump said. “So I thank you for that, Jean-Claude. This will open markets for farmers and workers, increase investment, and lead to greater prosperity in both the United States and the European Union.”
The EU does not maintain taxes on U.S. soybeans, so there are no tariffs that can be cut to spur trade. Perdue said today that he understood that European countries do not have state trading enterprises that can buy up soybeans outside of private commerce, but he still believes there’s something more they can do.
He said he believes “there was a commitment to even try to enhance that even more than maybe normal market transactions would have precipitated,” but did not offer specifics on how that would be possible.