Blog: US, Europe free-trade talks begin

Michelle Russell | 8 July 2013

Talks between the US and European Union will begin today (8 July) in a bid to secure a free-trade agreement, with one hot issue on the agenda for negotiation being that of food.

The talks are understood to be being led by Assistant US Trade Representative Dan Mullaney and his EU counterpart, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, with topics ranging from agricultural market access to investment and competition policy.

They will, however, no doubt be keen to solve one the most prickly issue in such negotiations: food. It is a subject that arouses strong emotions about safety, sustainability, political power, and cultural identity, and in many trade pacts can often be given priority status.

This year's horsemeat scandal in Europe has reinforced a public distrust of certain regulators in Europe. This could mainly be due to an increased number of regulatory scandals which have plagued Europe for the past twenty years, including the ‘mad cow' crisis in the UK. In the US, the "local food" movement has run up against safety regulations, resulting in the launch of a 'food sovereignty' campaign which aims to assert the right of people to define their own food systems.

Talks today, however, are likely to centre around Europe's regulations for artisan products such as cheese being more restrictive than in the US, and the lowering of restrictions on genetically modified crops.

FoodDrinkEurope, the trade body representing Europe’s food and drink manufacturers, welcomed the announcement of formal talks last month. The trade body said it was looking forward to "actively engaging with all interested parties to ensure the delivery of a trade deal which will create new growth opportunities for Europe’s food and drink industry".

For Europe’s food and drink industry, regulatory barriers remain the biggest obstacle to a mutually beneficial trade agreement. The FDE says it is particularly important that no new regulatory barriers are introduced through the implementation of the Food Safety Modernisation Act recently signed into law in the US. The Act has the potential to both facilitate trade but also to produce a "significant" number of new barriers to trade and may impact upon exports by European food and drink SMEs, it said.

The US is the first export destination for Europe’s food and drink products, amounting to EUR13.6bn in 2012. In addition, the US is the third most important source of food imports to the EU (after Brazil and Argentina). Almost 60% of EU exports correspond to trade in drinks, followed by dairy, vegetable oils and chocolate.

According to Reuters, a comprehensive deal could boost the EU's economy by EUR119bn per year, and the US economy by EUR95bn.

Food for thought .... and discussions, no doubt.



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