Will there be transatlantic free trade of food and agricultural products?
Soon after President Obama re-affirmed his commitment to move ahead negotiating a Free Trade Agreement at the State of the Union speech on February 12, Senators Max Baucus from Montana and Orrin Hatch from Utah (two farming and ranching states) said i a letter to Trade Representative Ron Kirk that “broad bipartisan Congressional support for expanding trade with the EU depends, in large part, on lowering trade barriers for American agricultural products.”
That would mean for the EU to accept American GMO corn and soybeans, beef raised with growth hormones, chicken doused in chlorine or lactic acid to kill bacteria. It would mean for the US to accept the EU protection of regional specialties, the elimination of US cheese quotas, and the acceptance of EU phyto-sanitary standards for produce, dairy and meat products. Both trading blocks would have to agree on how to structure, synchronize or eliminate agricultural subsidies. And the deal would have to be acceptable to the Asian and Latin American trading blocks and comply to the rules of the World Trade Organization.
That’s a steep hill to climb for the negotiators.
Nevertheless, in our opinion, any reduction or elimination of trade barriers between the US and the EU would be a major achievement towards economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
Why not start by making food laws, food safety standards and import regulations equivalent? There’s no scientific or logical reason for keeping existing differences in permissible health claims, ingredient declarations, safety audits or pest or weed controls between the EU and the US. An equivalency agreement on phyto-sanitary standards would greatly benefit small and mid-size food companies to find new customers and it would provide consumers with more choices. The mutual acceptance of organic label requirements in February 2013 between the EU and the US shows that both trading block can agree on common standards.
With trust in the free market economy and equal considerations for the environment, animal welfare, needs of small farms and rural economies, legislators on both sides need to put their emotions, reservations and lobbyists at bay and focus on the potential gains for nearly 820 million people.