BRUSSELS (Reuters) — Europe’s reluctance to buy meat from cattle treated with hormones or genetically modified food from the United States has exposed an “enormous gulf” that threatens the world’s biggest trade pact.
Talks to create a transatlantic pact encompassing almost half the world’s economy have been proceeding for eight months, and divisions remain over opening up to each other’s goods, rules governing the names of food and GM food.
“There is an enormous gulf be-tween the EU and U.S. positions,” said Michael Dolan, a lobbyist for the U.S. Teamsters union, who rejected the idea that the European Union should be the only market to call Greek-style cheese “feta.”
He warned that a trade deal “is likely to be smaller, more modest than its ambition, because of so many intractable issues.”
Tensions over food, which have bedeviled many trade talks around the world, risk eroding already fragile public support for a deal that proponents say would increase economic growth by $100 billion a year on both sides of the Atlantic.
Negotiators aim to finalize a deal by the end of this year.
EU and U.S. negotiators holding a fourth round of talks in Brussels took the unusual step of not only receiving lobbyists but also letting in the media, mindful of the protests surrounding global trade talks in the 1990s.
EU ministers have warned that anti-globalization protesters could distort what little awareness there is about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks.
At risk is a pact creating a market of 800 million people where business could be done freely, building on the almost $3 billion of daily transatlantic trade in goods and services.
Difficulties over agriculture bode poorly for the talks because EU-U.S. negotiators are seeking a far more extensive agreement, going beyond farm goods to bring down barriers across all industries and businesses.
Even animal welfare is sensitive in a proposed accord that would see both sides recognize each other’s standards to oil the wheels of commerce. Europeans said they consider U.S. animal slaughter standards to be far lower than in the EU.
Even without such issues, U.S. farmers complain that the farm trading relationship is unfairly skewed in Europe’s favour.
The European Union exported $16.6 billion of farm goods to the U.S. in 2012, much more than the $9.9 billion that U.S. farmers sent to Europe, partly because of EU rules banning imports of GM food for human consumption.
“Our trade could be way bigger,” said Douglas Nelson, an adviser for farm group CropLife America.
Added Floyd Gaibler of the U.S. Grains Council: “The TTIP is a way to normalize trade with the European Union.”
However, barely a week goes by that EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht says that European regulation of GM food will not change even if a deal is done with Washington.
The EU is also closed to U.S. beef from cattle raised with growth hormones. Some Europeans are worried about what impact GM crops and hormone beef might have on health and the environment.