U.S. Farmers Push for Agriculture to Be Part of EU Talks

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. farmers and ranchers want the Trump administration to include agriculture in trade talks with the European Union, an approach officials in Brussels are reluctant to take.

President Donald Trump notified Congress in October that his administration plans to negotiate trade pacts with the EU starting as early as mid-January, as well as hold talks for separate deals with Japan and U.K.

At a hearing Friday on the U.S. negotiating goals for EU talks, groups representing the agriculture industry urged the administration to try to improve market access in Europe. The U.S. had a $101 billion trade deficit in goods and services with the EU last year.

“We believe that agriculture must be part of the negotiations, and that they must focus on uprooting the various tariff and non-tariff barriers that threaten agricultural exports to the EU,” said Shawna Morris, vice president of trade policy at the U.S. Dairy Council. “An appallingly high agricultural trade deficit currently plagues transatlantic trade, and it’s a direct result of the EU’s efforts to block U.S. agricultural goods.”

The U.S. and EU are trying to preserve a fragile truce on trade after relations came under strain when Trump imposed tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum earlier this year. The president has also threatened to slap tariffs on foreign autos, and this year tasked the Commerce Department with studying whether imports threaten national security.

Tariff Plan

Earlier this year, Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed the two sides would work toward eliminating tariffs, paving the way for the trade talks.

But European officials have indicated they want to keep the scope narrow. European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said last month there may be enough common ground
for a limited trade agreement with the U.S. over industrial goods that excludes vehicles, agriculture and liquefied natural gas. EU negotiators must obtain the go-ahead from the bloc’s 28 member states before starting talks.

A representative of the U.S. beef industry said the EU imposes so-called tariff-rate quotas on American shipments of the meat, meaning the EU applies a higher tariff once U.S. producers ship more than a certain amount.

“The status quo is untenable,” said Kent Backus, director of international trade at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “We cannot sit by while the EU continues to impose some of the most restrictive tariff and non-tariff barriers in the world.”

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