The European Union is eager to work with the Trump administration to begin talks for a new U.S. trade pact, but agriculture issues will not be on the table for discussion, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström insisted to reporters today.

Malmström, after a meeting Tuesday night with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, was adamant that the EU has “made it very clear that, from our side, we are not going to include agriculture. That has been stated very clearly from the beginning … We are focusing on industrial goods.”

EU officials have stressed for months that the word “agriculture” was not used once in the joint statement signed in July by President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to kick off trade talks, but U.S. officials like USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue have strenuously disagreed with that interpretation.

Malmström’s insistence is bad news for U.S. farmers and ranchers who have struggled for years under European restrictions and tariffs that have hobbled U.S. agricultural exports. The U.S. sells virtually no poultry to the EU because it bans the chlorinated rinses popular with American producers. Steep tariffs sharply limit U.S. rice exports to the trade bloc and while Europe does import some beef from the U.S., it only allows in a special class of non-hormone treated product that comes in under a quota.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who met with Malmström today, predicted that an EU-U.S. trade pact that doesn’t include agriculture would never be approved on Capitol Hill.

It will take the full support of the agriculture sector to get the Senate to approve any trade pact, he told reporters.

While the EU is refusing to negotiate on ag, Malmström stressed that there are issues the U.S. is refusing to take up, such as geographic indications (GIs).

The Trump administration is strictly opposed to the EU’s goal of restricting the use of some food names like black forest ham, feta, gorgonzola, fontina, roquefort and asiago cheese. The desire is to prohibiting all but some European producers from marketing the products. U.S. producers argue that the names have become generic over the years.

Juncker never did publicly agree to negotiating European ag policies, but the European Commission president did promise to buy a lot more soybeans than normal from the U.S. The EU lived up to that promise, Malmström said today and predicted those imports would increase.

EU countries imported about 5.2 million metric tons of soybeans from July through December last year, according to a new European Commission report. That’s a 112 percent increase from the same time period in 2017, the report says. For that July-December period, the U.S. captured 75 percent of the EU market, up from 39 percent a year earlier.

The Juncker pledge to buy more soybeans was easy to back up. It has been difficult for European buyers to get their normal supplies from South America and many turned to the U.S. instead. That’s primarily because Chinese buyers have been buying far more than normal from Brazil. Until recently, Chinese importers have mostly shunned U.S. soybeans because of the 25 percent tariff that China is levying in retaliation for U.S. tariffs.

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