WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2014 - The European Union will not budge on its regulations forbidding hormone-treated beef during trade negotiations, the European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht said Tuesday.

“We are not going to change our legislation,” De Gucht said during an event at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. “To be very clear, we are not going to import hormone beef. Because it would mean we would have to change our basic legislation, and we are not going to do it. We’re not going to even make a legislative proposal for that because it has no support in Parliament, it has no support in the Commission. So we will keep and stick to our regulations.”

De Gucht indicated that if the U.S. wants to increase its beef imports to the EU in the future, it will have to change the way meat is produced. “What will happen is what happened, for example, in Canada,” he said. That country “put in place a hormone-free production line. It’s as simple as that.”

The commissioner attributed the EU’s strict rules, which restricts the importation of much U.S.-raised beef, to Europe’s “culture,” which he said is “much more risk averse.” The EU’s regulatory scheme operates according to the precautionary principle, which directs governments to restrict access to those technologies that they believe are not yet scientifically understood. U.S. scientists, argue that the science on genetically modified foods and hormone-treated beef – a few of the many technologies the EU rejects – is complete and proves those techniques are safe.

De Gucht was in town for a “stock-taking” meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, eight months into the negotiating process for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Froman, in a statement, said the meeting had been “productive.” And the Belgian politician reported that other parts of the talks had been going well.

“Eight months in...[it] was good to see [the U.S. and EU] already achieving convergence” on many trade issues, De Gucht said. Both countries’ negotiating teams have “marked out what needs to be worked on.” But “what’s marked out is larger than the common ground. The next part is much harder.” The fourth round of TTIP talks will take place in Brussels March 10-14.

Just one year ago, Froman, then-Deputy National Security Advisor, seemed more optimistic about changing the beef import rules, among other sanitary and phytosanitary regulations that hamper free trade between the U.S. and EU.

“We are not only not putting off ag issues past the agreement, but we are resolving them before the negotiations are completed,” Froman said in February 2013.

On Tuesday, however, De Gucht declined to reveal specifics of the trade negotiations, particularly those issues dealing with market access. At the beginning of the trade talks, the EU argued its market access offer was more generous than what was offered by the U.S.

“The answer could be very short: I’m not going to give any details on that,” De Gucht said in response to a question from a reporter.

Trade experts still emphasize the importance of these talks. TTIP has to the “potential to be largest trade and investment partnership ever negotiated,” said Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and U.S. ambassador to the China. Huntsman currently serves as chairman of the Atlantic Council.

Though two studies examined by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) disagreed as to whether the U.S. or EU had more to gain from a free trade agreement, both said the countries’ GDP would increase, as much as $3 billion for the EU and $4.5 billion for the U.S.

“Although these estimated increases to overall GDP levels may be relatively small, tariff elimination could have a significant impact for specific firms and economic sectors,” CRS wrote.

Those sectors certainly include agriculture. According to USDA data, U.S. exports of food and farm products to the EU in fiscal 2013 totaled $11.5 billion. According to Ambassador João Vale de Almeida, head of the EU’s delegation to the U.S., a successful negotiation could mean a total “high-spending and highly sophisticated” consumer base of 800 million people.

“TTIP is the mother of all [free trade agreements]…and a game-changer for bilateral relations between the European Union and the United States,” Vale de Almeida told members of the American Farm Bureau Federation at their annual meeting in January. “It also has the potential to be a game-changer globally, as Americans and Europeans work to reenergize the world’s system, and do it according to our values and principles.”


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