WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2016 - Optimism is quickly fading that the U.S. and EU will be able to complete work on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) this year, even as negotiators from both sides of the Atlantic meet this week in New York.
“There’s not enough coherence or cohesion to come together with an overall agreement between now and the end of the year,” said David Salmonsen, a senior director for congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The U.S. and EU negotiators will be holding a briefing Wednesday for industry stakeholders, but Salmonsen says he likely won’t attend because of the lack of progress on agricultural issues.
Farm issues in the massive trade pact are some of the most controversial that negotiators still have to iron out. They are a major factor in the delays, but U.S. farm and trade group representatives say that just because the deal doesn’t get done this year doesn’t mean it won’t get done.
“T-TIP really got going for us in … 2013, so the fact that it’s gone on for several years and will continue through the next administration is very normal,” Salmonsen said in an interview. “I think that’s what everyone expects… given all the political headwinds on both sides of the Atlantic. I’m sure they’ll pick this up as soon as they can in the next administration when they have the people appointed that take the top job.”
It’s very important to U.S. corn farmers that T-TIP is a success, especially if negotiators manage to fix the European biotechnology trait approval process that is close to being completely broken, said Floyd Gaibler, director of trade policy and biotechnology for the U.S. Grains Council.
U.S. negotiators have proposed reforms for the EU process, but Gaibler said the industry has seen very little progress in getting any response from the Europeans. The Grains Council would also like to see a reduction in European tariffs, but until the EU begins approving biotech traits, the tariffs are almost a moot point.
“We’ve had a longstanding issue with the inability of the European Union to approve biotech traits,” Gaibler said. “It’s not only gotten worse, it’s become politicized as well. It’s the biggest impediment that has harmed us in terms of cutting back our access to this market.”
The EU is supposed to have essentially a two-part review system for new biotech traits. The first part is a scientific review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the second part is a final approval by a standing committee, which includes representatives from all 28 member countries.
But it has never worked out that way, said Gaibler. The EFSA reviews have grown longer and longer over the last several years and the standing committee has never issued an approval, instead kicking the decision up to an appeals committee or the European Commission.
Ten years ago it took EFSA an average of about 18 months to approve a new genetically modified grain, he said. Now it takes more than four years.
The biotech approval backlog has had a significant impact on U.S. corn exports to Europe, Gaibler said. In 1990 the U.S. supplied about 95 percent of Europe’s corn imports. Now that has dropped to about 2 percent.
The U.S. poultry sector is also hoping that T-TIP can open up Europe to U.S. chicken exports, but Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, has not seen much progress in negotiations.
The EU has virtually halted U.S. chicken imports because European countries ban the type of antimicrobial rinses used by most U.S. producers to prevent salmonella contamination.
Sumner predicts this will be one of the most difficult issues to be resolved. And the most difficult tasks are always saved for last, Farm Bureau’s Salmonsen said.
“I think that everybody realizes that these things are difficult,” he said. “You always put off the hard decisions to the end.”
What negotiators should not do, though, is agree to some form of abbreviated T-TIP that encompasses the easiest issues that can be resolved, Salmonsen said. Talk has been circulating of a possible “T-TIP lite,” he said, and that would be a mistake.
U.S. agriculture wants to see a good deal and that means a comprehensive deal, Salmonsen said.
Two prominent officials warning negotiators against such an action are House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Both lawmakers agree that T-TIP is not likely to be done this year, despite hopes expressed by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.
“Even if they cannot be finished this year, we believe it is essential to make progress and, by so doing, to create momentum for next year,” Brady and Hatch said in a letter they sent this week to Froman. “The United States has come to the table prepared to negotiate a high-standard agreement, and we have the political will to do so. Congress will not accept an abbreviated or low-standard agreement simply because the Europeans have run out the clock. T-TIP must be a single undertaking.”
The consequences of not getting a T-TIP agreement can be seen in the numbers, said Gaibler. The U.S. ran a $12 billion agricultural trade deficit with the EU in 2014, he said, comparing that to a $16 billion agricultural trade surplus with the rest of the world.
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