U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was upbeat about tackling outstanding issues with the European Union in any trade discussion, including sanitary/phytosanitary (SPS) trade barriers that plague U.S. farmers. Perdue has been traveling to Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy to engage with his counterparts there on important issues facing agriculture at home and abroad.
In a media call Wednesday morning, Perdue said SPS issues, including, for instance, the so-called ban on chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef imports, will be important issues to resolve. Europe currently bars imports of poultry products treated with chlorine dioxide, a commonly used treatment in the U.S. that Perdue said is consumed “all the time” in the U.S. without concern.
Perdue said, “We think we’re very close to equalizing the trade balance between our two entities.” He said U.S. agriculture sector currently runs at $10-12 billion trade deficit with the EU.
Initially, the EU had said agriculture could not be included in discussions for any trade deal, but Congress and the Administration said that’s a non-starter. “From our perspective, in any kind of trade agreement, agriculture would be engaged,” Perdue said. He noted that this isn’t suggesting that tariffs have to be on the table, but SPS issues have to be addressed.
Perdue has said he’s willing to offer reciprocity to the EU regarding some issues with imports of apples and pears as well as goats, and they’re close to resolving those to include as part of an agreement that may come out of overall discussions with Europe.
Geographic indicators, such as limiting the use of common food terms like feta and parmesan, is another sticking point with the EU. “They’re still very proud of their geographical indicators,” the secretary said, adding that many Americans were European settlers and brought over recipes and names decades ago. Perdue pointed out the hypocrisy of feta cheese, which is restricted from only Greece, yet cheesemakers in France can sell their feta cheese around the world.
Meanwhile, the U.K. plans to formally leave the EU bloc on Friday. When Perdue was asked whether he had any discussions with the nation, he said he is giving the U.K. a little bit of time to get more settled.