The US beef industry has proposed a reduction of existing sanctions on EU imports, as long as the EU agrees to expand access under a small existing quota reserved for hormone-injected beef. There has been little innovation in the proposals, but a EU diplomat explained that "the context is new even though the idea is not," and if the EU & US government agree, there could finally be an end in sight for what has seemed an intractable dispute.

Scepticism in the EU surrounding the safety of hormone-injected beef had led to a twelve-year ban on US consignments, despite the ruling by the World Trade Organisation that such a ban was illegal because no scientific evidence could back up the suggestion that such meat is a health hazard. Last year, in response to the continued ban, sanctions were imposed by the US on US$117m of EU imports.

The trade war was launched and since April, all beef imported into the EU from the US has been detained and subject to checks for banned hormones. No contamination was discovered, however, and the EU offered a concession on 27 September. The outcome was that only 20% of future meat imports will be checked, a figure in line with inspection rates for meat consignments for all countries outside the EU. Struggling under the European testing regime and a 20% tariff, US beef producers retaliated with attempts to increase pressure on the EU, threatening to push for a rotation, a "carousel," of sanctions.

Now it seems that an end to the dispute may finally be near, encouraged by the push of the Clinton administration to resolve outstanding trade disputes before it hands over power. US farmers have improved and extended controls on their beef production, and this may mean that increased access under the quota might now be possible. In a letter to the EU on 2 October, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association laid out its proposals for the EU expansion of access, and chief economist Chuck Lambert has commented: "There is a renewed realisation that it isn't in our best long-term interests to continue to retaliate."

A deadline has been set for the 18 November, and the US beef industry is confident it will be met with a deal.