EU set to negotiate better market access for US beef

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The EU is to open talks to resolve a decades-long dispute with the US on restrictions on hormone free beef imports into the EU, following years of complaints from American farmers that they are losing out to other global players.

EU ministers have given the official go ahead for the European Commission to renegotiate the terms of an existing agreement with the US to import hormone-free beef in the global Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ). 45,000 tonnes of hormone free beef is currently allowed into the EU each year tariff-free under an agreement reached in 2009. The quota was originally put in place to settle a WTO dispute with the US over the EU’s prohibition of hormone-treated beef.

The review is likely to result in a country-specific allocation for the US as over time other countries – chiefly Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand – have exported to the EU under this quota and as a result reduced access for US beef. The US has voiced strong discomfort with this, indicating that it could impose other trade restrictions on EU products.

European Commission President Juncker visited US President Trump over the summer to avoid the latter imposing new tariffs on EU products. Those talks stalled further trade penalties and gave new impetus to opening a new EU-US trade deal.

While this hormone-free beef quota is separate to a free trade agreement, the willingness from the EU’s side to review existing arrangements to appease the US is linked to those wider trade discussions. Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan said that “we can start negotiating with the United States to address some concerns they raised on the functioning of the quota and contribute to a mutually satisfactory outcome. By engaging in this process without delay, the EU shows its commitment to bring about a new phase in the relationship with the United States, in line with the agreement reached between Presidents Juncker and Trump in July.”

After further pressure from the US, the EU has agreed a mandate to ring-fence a reported 35,000 tonnes of the quota specifically for US product.

The commission and member states have stressed that this renegotiation will not lead to an increase in the overall amount of US product entering the EU. Margarete Schrambök, the economic affairs minister of Austria, which holds the Council Presidency, said that any solution “must respect the EU’s high food quality and safety standards.”