PRESIDENT Barack Obama, along with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, announced June 17 that the U.S. and European Union will launch negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (T-TIP) agreement.
The first round of T-TIP negotiations will take place the week of July 8 in Washington, D.C., and will be led by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
A White House fact sheet noted, "T-TIP will be an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard trade and investment agreement that offers significant benefits in terms of promoting U.S. international competitiveness, jobs and growth."
The U.S. is the EU's largest market for agricultural exports, while the EU is the fifth-largest market for the U.S. The EU surplus with the U.S. reached a record $8.84 billion in 2012 versus $6.76 billion in 2011.
The fact sheet noted that the agreement specifically will "tackle costly, 'behind-the-border,' non-tariff barriers that impede the flow of goods, including agricultural goods."
The EU has historically imposed sanitary and phytosanitary measures that act as significant barriers to U.S.-EU trade, including the EU's restrictions on genetically modified crops, a ban on the use of hormones in cattle, restrictions on pathogen reduction treatments in poultry, pork and beef, non-scientific restrictions on the use of safe feed additives such as ractopamine in beef and pork and other barriers that affect a significant portion of U.S. agricultural exports.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) said, "In order for this agreement to live up to its potential, it needs to address the EU's long-standing barriers to American agriculture exports. Our trading partners need to drop unscientific barriers to the products American ranchers and farmers produce, which are top-notch and completely safe."
Agricultural groups have been very skeptical of an ambitious trade agreement with the EU because of its track record of instituting non-scientific trade barriers.
"The misuse of sanitary and phytosanitary standards, including the EU's restrictions on genetically engineered crops, has long been a tactic to impede trade. We will look closely to these negotiations to move past this trade-distorting tactic and fully embrace a rules-based trading system with standards based upon scientific assessment," American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman said in a statement.
Stallman added that the bureau remains "cautiously hopeful" that the T-TIP negotiations will yield positive results for U.S. agriculture.
The National Pork Producers Council last week reiterated its call for pork tariffs to eventually go to zero. Council president Randy Spronk said that was the result of every other free trade agreement the U.S. has negotiated, and a trade deal with the EU should be no different.
The EU has one of the most highly protected pork markets in the world. It makes use of small tariff rate quotas with high in-quota duties and prohibitively high out-of-quota duties to limit the in-flow of pork from non EU suppliers. EU pork consumption is 20 million metric tons annually, making it the second-largest market in the world for pork consumption behind only China.
At the end of May, USTR held hearings to solicit comments on U.S. negotiating objectives (Feedstuffs, June 3). Several groups testified on matters important to agriculture, including the American Soybean Assn., National Milk Producers Federation, U.S. Dairy Export Council, International Dairy Federation Assn., National Chicken Council, National Renderers Assn. and Biotechnology Industry Organization.