Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is leaving a week of meetings in Europe with a sense of optimism about a potential trade deal with the bloc of countries there, but familiar issues will need to be addressed if there is to be an agreement.

Perdue's travels through various parts of Europe have included conversations in Brussels with EU officials. He said he sensed that overcoming differences between the U.S. and European Union on issues like sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards as well as the use of geographic indicators for certain cheeses and other products would be key to reaching an agreement. But he doesn’t think those challenges would stand in the way of a deal.

“I was encouraged to see that the president of the EU and our president, President (Donald) Trump, were conversing and friendly regarding a ‘weeks, not months’ timeline on EU progress,” Perdue said, noting that USDA had provided U.S. trade negotiators with “the technical aspects and the things that we think the EU is capable of providing that would help to balance that trade relationship.”

Perdue specifically said issues like the U.S. practice of using chemical rinses on chicken was part of “a pretty significant list” of SPS issues that will need to be addressed.

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Perdue also cited the “hypocrisy” of some of the EU’s GIs as a major hurdle. While Europeans may be “very proud” of their GIs, Perdue said he discussed the role of European immigrants in the founding of the United States who “used the same language that they used in Europe over these products.”

“We feel like they are generic in scope and have no basis in trademarks or those kind of things. They obviously feel differently,” Perdue said.

“Greece is known for its feta cheese, and there’s not really a Feta, Greece,” he added. “There’s certainly not a Feta, France, where France exports feta cheese to the United States, but they cannot export it internally within the EU.”

The EU has been successful in incorporating GI concerns in recent trade deals with Mexico and Japan.

Agriculture was thought to be a non-starter for the U.S.-EU trade dialogues, but Perdue said it will still be a necessary component of a successful trade deal. He did leave a little wiggle room, however, saying he wasn’t suggesting tariff issues needed to be initially on the table, “but certainly the SPS issues have to be addressed” along with other non-tariff barriers.

Perdue also said the EU could be expected to request some SPS changes from the U.S., including treatment of European pears, apples, sheep and goats. Perdue said he thought the U.S. was “very close to resolving those SPS issues … if we saw any kind of reciprocity on the part of the Europeans.”

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