The European Union has agreed to assure the U.S. gets the lion’s share of its annual beef quota after months of negotiations and more than 20 years of friction over the subject of non-hormone beef trade.

The EU has pledged to phase in over seven years a new quota protocol that will give U.S. exporters 35,000 metric tons of Europe’s 45,000-ton tariff rate quota for beef from animals that were never treated with growth hormones.

It’s unclear how long it will take for the deal to be implemented. The European Commission said Friday that it may take months for it to be finalized after approval by the European Parliament.

The EU lost a dispute in 1998 after the U.S. challenged its prohibition on imports of hormone-treated beef, but the Europeans refused to relent and accept imports from the U.S. Rather than retaliate, the U.S. agreed to a deal in 2009 in which the EU pledged to set up a 45,000-ton quota that would allow imports to avoid Europe’s steep 20% tariff.

The deal was deemed acceptable at first by the U.S. beef industry, but the situation turned sour for American cattlemen and meat packers because other countries soon qualified for the TRQ. Exports from countries like Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay and Argentina began filling up the quota and, on good years, the U.S. was only managing to ship about 23,000 tons annually to Europe.

“As far as we’re concerned, that’s our quota,” Kent Bacus, director of international trade and market access for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said last October when the European Council authorized negotiators to work on a guarantee that U.S. exporters would get a major share of the TRQ.

The beef trade negotiations have been separate from the fledging attempts between the U.S. and EU to forge a broader free trade agreement, but EU. Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan tried to connect the two.

"With the successful outcome of the negotiations, the (European) Commission has delivered on a very important issue with a major trade partner with which we are engaged in broader trade talks,” Hogan said Friday. “ With this step, the European Union reaffirms its commitment to bring about a new phase in the relationship with the United States, in line with the agreement reached between Presidents (Jean-Claude) Juncker and (Donald) Trump in July 2018.”

Those FTA talks have been slowed because the U.S. and EU cannot agree on the scope of the deal. The U.S. continues to demand that agricultural issues should be included in the talks, while the Europeans remain adamant that they be excluded.

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