USTR plans hearing on EU beef trade practices after Trump’s inauguration
In an apparent attempt to push the European Union to relax its ban on U.S. hormone-fed beef or at least buy more U.S. non-hormone-fed beef, Trade Representative Michael Froman announced today that USTR will hold a hearing February 15 on EU trade practices that USTR says are “unfair” and “discriminate against U.S. beef imports.”
Froman will not be at USTR for that hearing, since he must leave when the Obama administration ends on January 20.
USTR noted that it is holding the hearing at the request of the U.S. beef industry.
In the announcement, USTR said, “In 1998, the EU lost a case at the WTO for banning American beef. In 2009, the U.S. negotiated an agreement to allow a modest degree of market access for specially produced beef that meets the EU’s standards, but that agreement has not worked as intended. The European Commission had argued that this issue should be resolved through T-TIP [the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership]. However, given that the EU stated in September that they did not view the completion of T-TIP this year to be possible, it is now time to take action.”
The dispute between the United States and the European Union is over the feeding of growth hormones to cattle, a common practice in the United States. Under WTO rules, the United States has the right to impose retaliatory tariffs, but instead negotiated an agreement to export beef from non-hormone fed cattle. USTR said Thursday that the hearing could lead to the United States reinstating industry-supported tariffs on a list of EU products imported into the United States, but that the agency is “particularly interested in comments addressed to the possible effects of reinstatement on U.S. consumers and small- or medium-sized businesses.”
“The WTO determined that the European Union’s ban on U.S. beef imports violates its international trade obligations,” Froman said. “The EU has failed to live up to assurances to address this issue, and it’s now time to take action. Today’s action holds the EU accountable and is an important step in encouraging the commission to come back to the table to ensure that American ranchers have access to Europe’s market and that European consumers have better access to high-quality U.S. beef.”
“American ranchers raise some of the best beef on the planet, but restrictive European Union policies continue to deny EU consumers access to U.S. beef at affordable prices. For several years, we have been asking the EU to fix an agreement that is clearly broken, despite its original promise to provide a favorable market for U.S. beef,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the USTR release. “The U.S. beef sector is vital to our economy. U.S. beef and beef product exports average $6 billion per year, producing an estimated $7.6 billion in annual economic activity and supporting nearly 50,000 jobs nationwide. The industry is essential to the overall strength of the nation’s economy, and to rural communities seeking ways to access new customers in foreign markets.”
An interagency committee of trade experts and economists will participate in the hearing and review public comments on the particular products and EU member states that may be subject to the imposition of additional duties, with the goal of resolving this dispute, USTR said.
The news release also included statements from key House agriculture and trade leaders commending USTR for taking action.
“There is no doubt that American beef products are safe. The 20-year EU ban has been in effect far too long. It is not based on fact and should be lifted,” said House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
“The EU, our largest trading partner, unfortunately maintains numerous unscientific policies focused on protecting European agriculture producers from competition with American producers rather than promoting food safety,” said Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and chair of the Modern Agriculture Caucus. “It also closes off many more markets to U.S. producers in countries around the world which defer to the EU on these regulatory issues.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association praised the USTR announcement, saying that other countries are now taking most of the quota for non-hormone-fed beef.
“The European Union has left us no choice but to seek compensation for the long-standing mistreatment of U.S. beef exports,” said NCBA President Tracy Brunner. “Our temporary agreement with the EU was meant to be an opportunity to build a bridge of trust between U.S. beef producers and EU consumers, and to compensate the United States for the losses we have suffered as a result of the EU’s s hormone ban. The EU has violated the spirit of that agreement and caused U.S. beef exports to become a minority interest in a quota meant to compensate U.S. beef producers.”
NCBA noted that in 2009 the U.S. and the EU signed a Memorandum of Understanding under which the EU agreed to create a new duty-free quota for imports of non-hormone-fed beef, but that in the past two years, the entire 45,000 metric ton quota has been filled, though from Australia, Uruguay and Argentina.
“Neither Australia, Uruguay, nor Argentina was a party to the hormone dispute or the 2009 MOU that created the quota intended for the United States. The United States now has a minority and declining share of the quota, and imports so far this year point to a continuation of this trend,” NCBA said.
–The Hagstrom Report
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