U.S., EU trade deal mired

DES MOINES, Iowa — In early June, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he’s open to restarting free trade talks with the European Union.

Those talks have been stalled since last fall, when Americans elected Donald Trump as president.

Ross may be willing to resume negotiations, but the National Pork Producers Council in the United States says don’t bother.

The Europeans will never open up their market to U.S. agri-food products, so free trade talks with the EU are a waste of time, they maintain.

“While the European Union could be a tremendous market for American pork… we do not think the (EU) is ready to drop its non science based standards,” said John Weber, NPPC past-president, during a June 12 news conference at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines.

“Consequently, we are telling the Trump administration to kill the negotiations and focus instead on negotiating bilateral free trade agreements in the Asia/Pacific region.”

It’s been nearly four years since the U.S. and Europe began negotiating a free trade agreement, known as the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP).

After 15 rounds of talks, there are still “significant differences” on agricultural market access, said a March 9 report from the TTIP advisory council.

Maria Zieba, NPPC deputy director of international affairs, said the lack of progress on agriculture issues is glaring.

“We haven’t gotten to negotiating the ag chapter and it’s been years. I was there during the earlier rounds of negotiations… and right now it seems like the EU has a lot of different issues it’s trying to work through,” she said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t see much flexibility on their part to establish science-based standards… and to really lower those barriers to trade… like quotas and use of ractopamine (a feed additive) and animal welfare standards.”

The EU is the world’s second largest pork market but the U.S. exports only a tiny amount of pork there. So little, in fact, that America sells more pork to Honduras than the EU.

The population of Honduras is eight million. The EU has 450 million people.

The NPPC urges Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to spend time and energy on trade agreements that are realistic, like a bilateral deal with Japan.

“Or a bilateral with Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines,” Zieba said.

The U.S. had a free trade agreement with multiple Pacific Rim countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Trump pulled out of the deal days after his inauguration.

There is support for bilateral trade deals in Washington, despite the president’s anti-trade rhetoric, Zieba said.

“For the most part, everyone is really open to negotiating bilateral agreements,” she said. “All I’ve heard is very positive reactions from the Hill (Congress) and the administration.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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