U.S. trade negotiators are in New York City this week for a round of talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), hoping to make progress on a trade agreement that would cross the Atlantic Ocean in a similar way the Obama administration’s trade efforts have already crossed the Pacific.
Based on where negotiations stand right now, many in agriculture are doubtful that issues they have with T-TIP and the European Union will be addressed to their satisfaction before a new president takes office in January.
“I’m personally skeptical,” Tom Sleight, president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, said of prospects for completing T-TIP under the Obama administration. “A lot is going to have to happen in a short amount of time for that to be the case.”
Agri-Pulse spoke with a number of Washington agricultural leaders on Monday, and a broad feeling of measured hope filled the conversations. Many groups are behind trade agreements, but are worried that a deal that goes far enough to appease the EU will go too far for U.S. agriculture.
“If this looks like it’s playing out and heading towards an EU-style deal, I would expect a very strong backlash from U.S. agriculture,” Nick Giordano, vice president and counsel for global government affairs with the National Pork Producers Council, told Agri-Pulse “NPPC’s position would be the same as most in agriculture: We’re supportive of the T-TIP negotiations if and only if we’re headed to an outcome that looks like the other U.S. (free trade agreements),” Giordano continued. “If we’re not, then we’re in the danger zone and that’s a problem, and NPPC – I expect – and others are going to be saying, ‘Hey, why are we wasting our time with the European Union, when we can be expanding (the Trans-Pacific Partnership).’
Giordano pointed to ag and food regulations already in place in the EU that are unfriendly to common practices in U.S. agriculture, like the use of biotechnology and antibiotics, as reasons for his skepticism. And he isn’t alone.
“Any product that is safe enough for Americans should be safe enough for Europeans,” Kent Bacus, with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told Agri-Pulse “We need that kind of equivalency and that kind of understanding because there’s really no reason why we shouldn’t be able to sell the same beef to European consumers that we sell right here in the United States.”
The concerns have also made their way to Capitol Hill, where last week 26 senators sent a letter to U.S. trade negotiators calling on them to continue to fight for a T-TIP agreement that prioritizes U.S. agriculture, including the removal of non-science based regulatory barriers and the reduction and removal of tariffs on agricultural products.”
In the dairy sector, Chris Galen with the National Milk Producers Federation said his board has “seen nothing so far that would alleviate the concerns we have” with T-TIP. “Unless we get some better negotiations and better agreements than what we’ve seen so far with T-TIP, we’ve got some real concerns.”
One agricultural organization that seems to be a little warmer to this agreement than others is also nearly alone in its opposition to TPP: the National Farmers Union. Chandler Goule, NFU’s chief lobbyist, says that NFU is “hoping to position ourselves as one of the go-to organizations” on T-TIP negotiations, noting that NFU policies are much closer ideologically to the EU than many of their U.S. ag organization counterparts.
Goule added that he doesn’t think negotiations on the T-TIP agriculture chapters have started, and he anticipates agriculture topics will be addressed toward the end of the talks “because that’s going to be where some of the bigger stumbling blocks will be.”