Washington, June 17, 2014 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked European Union (EU) officials at a “historic meeting” to base agricultural trade talks on “the language of science,” he told reporters on a media call from Luxembourg Monday. “Let science dictate…how we solve these problems,” Vilsack said of controversial trade issues like biotechnology, geographical indications, cloning and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations, among the focuses of ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade talks. 

Vilsack described the meeting, which included agriculture and EU Commission representatives of all 28 EU member nations, as the first in a series. “It’s a strong start to an important but obviously difficult conversation,” Vilsack said, though he said officials only discussed most contentious topics in “general terms.” 

The agriculture secretary said geographical indications, or GIs, were highlighted by nearly all of his European counterparts, and indicated the EU and U.S. are still far apart on the trade issue. European trade negotiators hope to use GIs prevent U.S. companies from using standard, place-based food names like “feta,” “mozzarella” and “parmesan.”

Vilsack explained that the Europeans’ proposal “doesn’t fit well into our trademark system” because U.S. law seeks to protect the end agricultural product, not the process through which it is made. 

The Europeans “understood that we are not accepting of that notion that they can unilaterally impose a restriction on  a generic term,” Vilsack said of Monday’s meeting.

Last month, 177 members of Congress wrote to the Office of the United State Trade Representative to ask that TTIP talks address GI issues. 

“The EU is taking a mechanism that was created to protect consumers against misleading information and instead using it to carve out exclusive market access for its own producers,” they said.

The fifth round of official TTIP talks concluded in May. At a press conference, Dan Mullaney, who assumes the role of chief negotiator as assistant United States trade representative for Europe and the Middle East, described the round as a continuation of negotiators’ “exploration of the proposals that have been made in previous rounds, and [preparation] for, and in some cases, continuing textual discussions.”

Though a final agreement seems far away, Vilsack said Monday he was optimistic.

“I’m optimistic at the end of the day that both producers in the United States and in Europe will understand in the long, long term that trade agreements…end up benefitting all sides,” Vilsack said. 


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