Vilsack talks trade with Europeans |

Vilsack talks trade with Europeans

Vilsack releases two climate reports in Paris

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in Paris for the United Nations climate change talks, today released two related reports.

One report, released by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, highlights the President Barack Obama administration’s progress on sustainable land use over the past six years.

The second report, “Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System,” identifies the effects of climate change on global food security through 2100.

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In a blog posted on the USDA website late Tuesday, Vilsack discussed the challenges that the United States has faced during his tenure, including the drought in the western states, and how USDA has addressed them.

“Over the course of my tenure as secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, U.S. producers have faced a record drought, which the University of California estimates has cost farmers in California alone an estimated $3 billion in 2015,” Vilsack said.

“We’ve seen increasing incursions of invasive pests and diseases and extreme weather, everything from bark beetle to severe droughts, which have cost billions in lost productivity.

“We’ve faced a series of record wildfire seasons in the western United States — the worst decade in U.S. history for wildfire. The growing El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific has created the perfect storm for disasters to strike the already damaged and weakened western landscape.”

World agriculture faces unprecedented challenges in attempting to feed nine billion people by 2015 in the face of climate change, Vilsack wrote, adding that he found education of farmers, ranchers, forest land managers and USDA staff to be the first step in dealing with climate change.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the European Parliament Agriculture and Rural Development Committee that the United States and the European Union can establish freer agricultural trade if they are willing to settle on “equivalent” rather than “identical” food systems.

In a speech Monday, Vilsack said he believes farmers in the United States and Europe “are more alike than different.”

Farmers on both sides of the Atlantic “are proud of their roots, believers in hard work, understand responsibility to future generations to farm the land and to produce the food,” he said.

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“A potential agreement will also be more challenging for the livestock sector — beef, poultry and pork — which have been classified as sensitive in the market access offers exchanged in October. The detailed offers will not however be finalized until the end of the negotiations and we need to see that they are not put at risk.”COPA (European farm group) President Martin Merrild

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks to the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Monday in Brussels. (From EUTV video)

“They are proud to feed people in their countries and people all over the world, are interested in new and expanding market opportunities and recognize that the ability to produce food in a changing climate is challenging,” Vilsack added.

American agriculture is often not well understand in the United States or overseas, he said.

“While many use GMOs [genetically modified organisms], a growing number are in the organic business and are in the more traditional methods of production,” he said.

“There are varying sizes of farming operations,” he noted, adding there has been an “aggressive effort” to make locally produced foods available.

To feed the world, Americans and Europeans should work together to encourage the use of precision agriculture and limit food waste, Vilsack said, but they should also work together on trade, which he described as a key tool to increase global food security because it “stabilizes prices and farm income.”

The approaches to food safety are different in the United States and Europe, with Europe starting with the precautionary principle, he said, but the goals are the same.

Vilsack described the European system of geographic indicators and the U.S. system of trademarks as responding to the need “to provide protection for value added” production.

On his recent visit to China, he said, he noted there are “political considerations” to sanitary and phytosanitary systems.

The way to handle these matters in the TTIP is not about “getting identical systems, it is about getting equivalent systems.”

Vilsack noted that Americans “obviously value European products” because they buy $5 billion in European wine and cheese, while Europeans buy only $500 million in U.S. wine and cheese.

If TTIP is completed, he said, E.U. wine and cheese sales to the United States will probably go up.

Vilsack also faced an array of questions from committee members who brought up detailed differences between U.S. and European food systems.

When one committee member noted that in the United Kingdom an organic egg is brown and has not been washed, but in the United States it would have a white shell and be washed, Vilsack said that such matters could be addressed.

“We have a mutual responsibility for global food security,” he said.

Meeting with E.U. farm groups

In a meeting with COPA and COGECA, the European Union coalitions of farm and co-op groups, Vilsack said TTIP “will only be sellable in the United States if it results in real market access and reduced barriers for agriculture,” a spokeswoman for the secretary said.

He also discussed the importance of science as the basis for regulatory decision making and “expressed optimism that good faith efforts in the negotiations could lead to a strong agreement,” she added.

In a statement, COPA President Martin Merrild insisted “We see opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic from a potential agreement, as the U.S.A. is the first client for E.U. agri-food products worth 15 billion euros.”

“But trade must be two-way and non-tariff barriers to trade removed,” Merrild said.

“In particular, we see some opportunities for E.U. wine, fruit and vegetables, butter and some cheeses, olive oil and processed meat exports in the talks. There is especially increased demand in the U.S. right now for butter in view of its recognized health benefits,” he said.

“But we need to lift the increased duties on E.U. butter and cream exports recently imposed by the U.S. It makes me question America’s commitment to free trade when it hits the E.U. dairy industry with higher duties on E.U. butter and cream exports.

“On top of this, we still cannot export any substantial volumes of beef to the U.S.A. — only two member states are authorized — even though the U.S. authorities agreed to allow the export of European beef to the U.S. market.” Merrild said.

“A potential agreement will also be more challenging for the livestock sector — beef, poultry and pork — which have been classified as sensitive in the market access offers exchanged in October. The detailed offers will not however be finalized until the end of the negotiations and we need to see that they are not put at risk.”

COGECA President Christian Pees said, “We need to see concrete proposals from the U.S. here.”

“For example, E.U. dairy producers face big obstacles when trying to market Grade A milk products in the U.S. E.U. cheeses are denied access to the U.S. market because the label fails to use hairline, bars and bold type in an appropriate format.

“Hard cheeses, semi-soft cheeses and soft ripened cheeses have to wait 60 days before circulating on the U.S. market.”

“The main issue here appears to be the testing methods which are not the same on both sides of the Atlantic,” Pees said.

“In the fruit and vegetables sector, a limited number of products are allowed to enter the U.S. market after going through a costly and unnecessarily burdensome pre-clearance procedure, such as apples and pears. This must be resolved. We also want to make sure that the E.U.’s high quality standards are not undermined – the E.U.’s ban on hormone treated meat must be respected for example as well as the E.U. system of geographical indications (GIs) which protects E.U. products from imitations.”

–The Hagstrom Report