US ambassador again demands that agriculture be part of EU trade talks

Stock picture: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
Stock picture: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Philip Blenkinsop

US ambassador has again repeated the line that agriculture had to be part of plans for trade negotiations with the European Union.

Gordon Sondland, however, did acknowledge that the two sides could build up deals piece by piece, as long as they did move though the issues.

But, the U.S. ambassador to the EU said on Thursday that the European Union’s plans for trade negotiations with the United States fall far short of what is required and any idea of delaying formal talks would not work,.

The European Commission, which negotiates trade deals on behalf of the 28 EU countries, has presented two negotiating mandates to governments for approval, one on reducing tariffs on industrial goods, the other on making it easier for companies to clear their products for sale on both sides of the Atlantic.

“The mandate that is being circulated falls far short of what even (Commission) President Juncker and President Trump discussed in July in Washington. The idea was to have a wide-ranging conversation about all aspects of our relationship,” Gordon Sondland told an AmCham business conference in Brussels.

EU negotiators have said they do not want to include agriculture in the bilateral discussions, one of a series of negotiations the United States has kicked off to secure better terms of trade.

Speaking to attendees of a U.S. Department of Agriculture annual forum recently, Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office Gregg Doud said it was “high time” for the EU to “get with the program” on issues like biotechnology, or genetically engineered ingredients known as GMOs.

“I can’t express my frustration with European agricultural and the way they deal with things like biotechnology, the way they deal with things like beef hormones,” USTR official Gregg Doud told attendees at USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum.

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“Their politicians, you ask them a question, and they say, ‘Well, maybe I need to check with Greenpeace before I answer.’”

The United States has said that the EU’s lengthy process for biotechnology approvals slows down innovation and curtails U.S. access to the European market.

USDA Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney said that regulations in the EU are ripe for a change.

The EU and the United States ended months of standoff in July when President Donald Trump agreed with Jean-Claude Juncker not to hit EU car imports with extra tariffs while the two sides worked on improving economic ties.

EU governments have failed so far to agree on launching formal trade talks, Germany pressing for a quick start, and France bidding for more time.

Stalling, said Sondland, would have consequences.

“The more the EU leadership plays the delay game the more we will have to use leverage to realign the relationship,” he said.

Some in Europe, he said, believed they could simply wait for a new U.S. president, but this tactic would not work.

“The (U.S.) Democrats disagree with President Trump on many issues.... but when it comes to fixing our trade imbalance with the EU there is no daylight between (us), none,” he said.

A key part of the July agreement was to remove import duties on “non-auto industrial goods”. The EU has said cars should be included and rejected Washington’s demand that agriculture should feature in talks too.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told Congress last week that discussions were at a “complete stalemate”.

The EU says progress has been made - its two negotiating mandates, discussions of possible regulatory cooperation and the doubling of U.S. soybean imports into Europe since July, although mainly because they are cheaper than rival imports.


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