U.S. farm groups are looking for big wins as U.S. negotiators push the U.K. to abandon European barriers to agricultural trade in the countries' first round of trade talks, according to officials aware of the proceedings.

At the root of U.S. demands in the ag trade talks is that the U.K. agree to divorce itself from the European Union’s global quest to restrict the use of some food names — think Asiago cheese — as well as convince the British to accept U.S. poultry.

The U.S. Trade Representative has not yet commented on results of the ongoing talks being held virtually across the Atlantic, but U.S. dairy and poultry leaders are confident their concerns are being fought for.

This is the second week of talks between about 200 negotiators on both sides who are meeting via videoconference out of COVID-19 precautions.

“These negotiations are a great opportunity for American agriculture,” says International Dairy Foods Association President and CEO Michael Dykes.

The U.K. will remain beholden to EU policies through December 2020, but on Jan. 1, the U.S. dairy sector and lawmakers want Britain to abandon Europe’s quest to restrict what it calls geographic indications.

“It is imperative that the U.S. government seizes the opportunity ahead of us in the U.S.-U.K. negotiations,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director of the Consortium for Common Food Names and an executive with the U.S. dairy industry. “The U.K. doesn’t have to abandon the GI system entirely, it just needs to establish reasonable, trade-friendly rules for handling them and to safeguard the use of common names so U.K. and U.S. producers and consumers can take advantage of new market opportunities.”

The EU has been successfully inserting GI protections for food names like black forest ham and feta, Gorgonzola, fontina and Roquefort cheese into free-trade agreements across the globe with countries like Mexico, Japan and Canada.

The damage can be extensive to U.S. companies that sell food under those names to countries, only to find out they have to call the products something else that consumers don’t recognize.

So getting a former EU member country to at least partially turn its back on GIs would be a satisfying accomplishment, Dykes told Agri-Pulse.

Michael Dykes

Michael Dykes, IDFA

“It would be a breach in the dam,” he said.

But it would also ensure the U.S. could sell products to British importers that it can’t now.

“For far too long U.S. food and beverage producers have been barred from selling their accurately labeled products to the U.K. by virtue of its adherence to protectionist EU GI policies,” the Consortium for Common Food Names said in a statement provided to Agri-Pulse. “This agreement must put an end to that in order to create a level playing field for competition and create a model for dealing with GIs that does not give short shrift to the rights of companies relying on widely used, everyday food names to market their products.”

The U.K. imports about $3 billion worth of cheese, butter and skim milk powder annually, but only about $9 million worth of the products come from the U.S. because of EU tariffs and GI restrictions.

Another EU policy that U.S. negotiators are addressing in talks with their counterparts at the British Department of International Trade is the country’s barrier to U.S. poultry.

It’s still common in the EU for government officials and the public to express opposition to importing “chlorinated chicken” from the U.S., but that’s a fiction, says Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. While it is common for U.S. producers to use antimicrobial rinses to prevent salmonella contamination, chlorine is not used, he and other officials stress.

Getting the U.K. to acknowledge the safety of U.S. poultry is intrinsic to any FTA, Sumner tells Agri-Pulse.

“If our industry is going to be supportive of the FTA, they’re going to have to come up with a way of dealing with this issue and recognizing that both systems are safe and effective,” he said.

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Sumner is not alone. He has dozens of U.S. lawmakers behind him. A group of 47 House members wrote to USTR Robert Lighthizer in March, demanding that negotiators fight to open up the British poultry market.

“As the second largest exporter of chicken and largest exporter of turkey, the U.S. sends poultry products to more than 120 countries around the world,” the lawmakers said in the letter. “Lifting this ban will set the stage for future agreements, such as with the EU and reinforce the (Trump) administration’s stance that U.S. farmers and ranchers are an integral part of the American economy that should not be left behind.”

National Chicken Council President Mike Brown lauded the support from Congress.

“With almost one of five pounds of chicken being exported, a robust and expanding overseas market is extremely important to the economic health and well-being of the U.S. chicken industry,” he said. “Including U.S. chicken is critical in any new trade agreement with the U.K. — an agreement that should not be hampered by artificial trade barriers.”

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