Brussels | Reuters — Europe’s reluctance to buy hormone meat or genetically modified (GM) food from the U.S. has exposed an “enormous gulf” that threatens the world’s biggest trade pact, industry and labour groups told EU and U.S. negotiators Wednesday.
Eight months into talks to create a transatlantic pact encompassing almost half the world’s economy, divisions remain over opening up to each others goods, rules governing the names of foods and genetically modified food.
“There is an enormous gulf between 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 a trade deal “is likely to be smaller, more modest than its ambitions, because of so many intractable issues,” telling negotiators in a forum also open to reporters.
Tensions over food, which have bedevilled many trade talks around the world, risk eroding already fragile public support for a deal that proponents say would increase economic growth by around $100 billion a year on both sides of the Atlantic (all figures US$).
Negotiators aim to finalize a deal by the end of this year.
Mindful of the huge protests surrounding global trade talks in the 1990s, EU and U.S. negotiators holding a fourth round of talks this week in Brussels took the unusual step of not only receiving lobbyists but also letting in the media.
What little awareness there is about the “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” (TTIP) could be distorted by anti-globalization protesters, EU ministers have warned.
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 transatlantic trade in goods and services each day.
Difficulties over agriculture bode poorly for the talks because EU-U.S. negotiators are seeking a far more a sophisticated agreement, going beyond farm goods to bring down barriers across all industries and businesses.
Even animal welfare is sensitive in a proposed accord where both sides would recognize each others standards to oil the wheels of commerce. Europeans said they consider U.S. standards concerning the slaughter of animals as being 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 and want it addressed in the trade talks.
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 genetically modified food for human consumption.
“Our trade could be way bigger,” said Douglas Nelson, an adviser for farm group CropLife America. Floyd Gaibler of the U.S. Grains Council said: “The TTIP is a way to normalize trade with the European Union.”
But barely a week goes by that EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, who handles commerce issues for the EU’s 28 member states, states that European regulation of genetically modified food will not change even if a deal is done with Washington.
The European Union 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 — often dubbed “Frankenfood” — might have on health and the environment.
“The United States and the European Union have the highest standards of food safety. How is it that we have such different ideas about how to achieve those standards?” said John Brook, regional director of the U.S. Meat Exports Federation.
“Have you ever heard about a European on holiday in the U.S. not eating meat? Everyone raves about the experience of eating in a U.S. steak house,” he said.
— Robin Emmott is a senior Reuters correspondent based in Brussels, Belgium.