Wednesday

27th Mar 2019

EU commission proposes US beef talks

  • US complains that the EU is not buying enough of its beef (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission has proposed to re-open talks with the US over beef imports, but insisted it would not open the door to hormone-treated meat.

The aim of the talks, the EU executive said on Monday (3 September), would be to see how US producers could better benefit from an EU quota to import 45,000 tonnes of beef per year.

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"It's not a question of increasing the existing quota. It's not a question of changing EU rules on import on beef, which have to respect the rules in terms of health and consumer protection," a commission spokesman told journalists.

US beef imports have been a bone of contention between Washington and the EU since the 1990s, when the US and Canada challenged the EU ban on hormone-treated beef at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

After the WTO gave way to the US and Canada, the EU agreed in 2009 to establish an additional duty-free quota for non hormone-treated beef in order to avoid US sanctions on EU products.

The quota agreement, which is applicable to all countries, and not only to the US or Canada, was revised in 2014.



But US producers have been complaining that the scheme is not good enough for them. The EU has been buying more beef from Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, Canada and New Zealand than from the US, which is considered less competitive.

In 2016, the outgoing Barack Obama administration opened a procedure to impose sanctions on the EU if US beef imports to the EU did not increase.

Earlier this year, EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan promised that the EU would try to find a solution. 


It will now be up to the EU member states to agree to grant the commission a mandate.

"We're talking about how it works, how the quotas is used, so it is in line with what we agreed to," the commission spokesman said, adding that "the US has asked a number of questions, which we would like to address."

The difficulty for the commission will be to accommodate US demands with WTO rules, which would forbid a quota for US beef within the 45,000-tonnes quota.

The commission also pointed out that "negotiations with other supplying countries may be needed" in case an agreement is found to increase the US share of the beef quota.

Political momentum

The potential beef talks would come amid tensions over US tariffs on EU steel and aluminium and threats of tariffs on EU cars.

The commission pointed out on Monday that the beef dispute was much older than the current Donald Trump administration, however.

But it admitted that the meeting between commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and US president Trump in the White House in July gave a new political momentum.

It said that its request for a negotiating mandate was in line with "the letter and the spirit" of the Juncker-Trump declaration, in which the two leaders pledged to open "a phase of close friendship, of strong trade relations in which both of us will win."

But it insisted that the beef talks would be limited to the existing quotas and that agriculture would remain "outside of the scope of tariffs discussions."

Analysis

Did Juncker trick Trump?

The EU commission chief agreed to trade talks even if the US president did not lift tariffs on steel and aluminium. But he avoided tariffs on cars and obtained a commitment to refrain from new unilateral moves.

EU and US kiss and make up on trade

The US will not impose tariffs on EU cars and might take back ones on steel and aluminium, according to a magical Trump-Juncker deal.

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