WASHINGTON, July 17, 2013 – The United States and the European Union may be poles apart on agricultural biotechnology and the protection of “geographical indications,” or GIs, for unique foods, but negotiators may be able to find a way to compromise on those and other issues, according to experts at a forum on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The forum at the National Press Club Wednesday, sponsored by the Farm Foundation and the International Food, Agriculture and Trade Policy Council, came on the heels of the opening week of TTIP negotiations between U.S. and EU trade officials in Washington last week.

Speakers did not minimize the gap separating the two sides. While potential economic benefits are enormous, said forum moderator J.B. Penn, chief economist for John Deere, “we also must be realistic about the formidable challenges that a successful negotiation must overcome.” Among the most difficult, he said are GIs, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, the so-called “precautionary principle” and biotech approval and labeling and market access for U.S products.

“I don’t think we’re anticipating a complete Nirvana,” said Matt O’Mara, the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s director of international affairs for food and agriculture. “We need to be realistic here and we need to take a step forward.” He sees TTIP as “an opportunity to forge a new relationship between the U.S. and the EU” but observes that biotech acreage is increasing rapidly in developing countries, which account for 52 percent of global biotech crop production.

The negotiators should focus on predictability and facilitating trade, O’Mara said. “We are not seeking to change the EU approach to cultivation or the EU approach to labeling. We want to find ways to facilitate trade. Specifically, would like to enforce the EU’s own timelines for approval of biotech crop applications and remove politics from the decisions,” he said. “We can't predetermine the outcome, but we need to discuss how we deal with the backlog logistically, how to address the process. If the trains run on time, we don't have an issue.”

The United States must continue to resist the most aggressive attempts by the EU to establish GI protection for many food products, said Craig Thorn, a former U.S. trade negotiator and now a partner at the DTB Associates consulting firm, even as it recognizes the right of every country to provide for the registration of GIs. “We recognize that GIs can add value to products,” he said, “but some approaches can create unnecessary trade restrictions. The most significant problem is registration of names that have become common or generic” such as parmesan or provolone.

The U.S. dairy industry would like to see a separate but parallel negotiation on GI rules. “We that makes sense because there is potential for an agreement that can help both sides,” Thorn said. “We hope to avoid a situation where GIs would be traded off against another issue. The only way forward is for the Europeans to reset their goals to take account of our interest and for the U.S. to be willing to address their concerns,” he said.

“We strongly reject any idea that the U.S. should relinquish the right to use long-standing food names such as parmesan and feta,” said Sue Taylor, vice president of dairy policy and procurement for Leprino Foods, Denver. “That seems to be the approach the EU has used with other countries.”

William Kerr, an agricultural economist at the University of Saskatchewan, said that the GIs issue has been “so contentious it’s been left to the end” of Canada’s negotiation with the EU on a bilateral trade agreement. He said that for Canada or the United States to grant recognition for EU GI protection on some cheese names “may lead to NAFTA trade disputes because it would be in direct conflict with NAFTA intellectual property agreements.”

The European approach to GI protection was defended by David Biltchik, chairman of Consultants International Group, who represents Italian exporters of Prosciutto de Parma ham. “We think GIs have been important in promoting economic development of rural areas,” he said, citing Napa Valley wines in the United States as an example of successful GI protection. “The U.S. and the EU should embrace geographical indications,” he said. “Unfortunately there is no government leadership in promoting GIs in the United States.”


Panelists at Farm Foundation Forum on U.S.-EU trade negotiations, from left: J.B. Penn, John Deere, moderator; Sue Taylor, Leprino Foods, Matt O’Mara, BIO, William Kerr, University of Saskatchewan; David Biltchik, Consultants International Group; Craig Thorn, DTB Associates.