WASHINGTON, April 30, 2014 – Disagreements over sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) are delaying U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

 At this point, Vilsack said last week at the Export-Import Bank's annual conference, the talks are “not really about market access. It's really more about some of the regulations and the SPS issues that are very, very difficult.”

SPS issues with the EU mostly concern pork, poultry and beef.

Ractopamine, which promotes leanness in pork, is outlawed in the EU, creating a formidable trade barrier for pork producers in the U.S., where the substance is legal and widely used. In 2012, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which oversees an internationally recognized collection of food safety standards, adopted maximum residue limits for the amount of ractopamine in animal tissues, recognizing the drug as safe at low levels.

The U.S. poultry industry is also partially barred from the EU because of the European body’s position on chlorinated chicken. In the U.S., chlorine is often used to disinfect slaughtered poultry. The EU, however, views the use of the chemical in poultry production as unsafe.

The EU has also banned beef raised with artificial growth hormone. But European politicians are standing firm on the hormone issue. “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,” European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in Washington, D.C., in February. “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 (European) Commission. So we will keep and stick to our regulations.”

At last week’s conference, Vilsack also noted that geographical indicators continue to be a “problem” for U.S. negotiators. He said the Europeans have continued to push on geographical indicator rules, or GIs, that EU hope to employ to prevent U.S. companies from using standard, place-based food names like “feta,” “mozzarella” and “parmesan.”

But Bill Reisch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, told Agri-Pulse in an interview this week that a GI compromise is possible. “There are middle grounds here,” he said. "Most of them don’t involve the United States abandoning the name ‘feta,’ for example, or ‘cheddar.’ [Possible compromises include] putting another adjective in front of it, so it’s ‘Wisconsin cheddar,’ to make it clear that it's not cheddar from England.” 

The Office of the United States Trade Representative announced Monday that the fifth round of TTIP negotiations with the European Union will take place in Arlington, Va., from May 19 to May 23.


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