DURING the week of July 8, the first round of negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and European Union officially got under way.
For the agriculture sector, the potential for expanded trade between the U.S. and EU is significant, but industry groups continue to call for a comprehensive TTIP agenda that addresses sticky issues such as tariff reductions and non-tariff restrictions, including geographical indictors.
Craig Thorn, partner at trade consulting firm DTB Associates in Washington, D.C., explained that very little real progress was made during the first round of negotiations, which instead served more as an organizational starting point.
The U.S. Trade Representative hosted a series of stakeholder engagement events to ensure that multiple perspectives and a balance of views inform U.S. negotiating positions.
Approximately 350 global stakeholders gathered July 10 for a series of outreach events, including the direct stakeholder engagement event, stakeholder presentations and a briefing by the chief negotiators from the U.S. and EU.
Negotiators took a break from their discussions to meet with and listen to presentations by approximately 50 stakeholders, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Meat Institute, U.S. Grains Council, The Humane Society of the United States, American Soybean Assn., CropLife America, Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy and Organic Consumers Assn., among others. Stakeholders and negotiators traded insights and shared opinions in the open forum.
There has been some skepticism as to whether a final TTIP deal can be accomplished due to some of the divisive issues that exist. Thorn explained that he doesn't see the talks succumbing to a similar fate as the stalled World Trade Organization Doha Round because TTIP has "two very willing parties."
He believes a final TTIP agreement is possible — something he never would have considered 15 years ago — but thinks it will likely take longer than the currently scheduled 18-month timeline.
(For the past three years, Canada has been working on a similar bilateral trade deal with Europe and has consistently missed its deadlines.)
In his opening comments at the TTIP negotiations, newly appointed USTR ambassador Mike Froman recognized the need to remain flexible in order to reach not just any deal but the right deal.
"We want you to avoid unnecessary delays, but we also recognize that the most important thing is to get the substance right. We need to resist the temptation to downsize our ambitions or avoid tough issues just for the sake of getting a deal," Froman said.
Editor's Note: How to handle geographical indications in the TTIP talks is a significant issue for food producers, especially for meat and cheese. Those closely involved in the negotiations believe the issue may be handled separately in order to reach an agreement that is workable for both the U.S. and EU. This topic will be explored in more detail in the July 29 edition of Feedstuffs.