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TTIP That Lacks ‘Strong Framework’ For Ag Could Hurt Congressional Support: Senators

A final Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the US and European Union (EU) that does not include a “strong framework for agriculture could have a negative impact” on congressional support for the deal, 26 members of the US Senate told US Trade Representative Michael Froman late last week.

The 13th round of TTIP negotiations took place in New York this week. Another round is scheduled for July.

The TTIP presents the US with “the opportunity to break down barriers and grow agriculture exports in “one of our most significant trading markets,” the senators noted in a letter to Froman. The EU is the world’s top importer of food and agriculture products, yet the US market share is “increasingly deteriorating” due to tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade.

It is “imperative” that tariff elimination on all products remain a priority, the senators said. “The EU must be willing to work towards liberalization in all sectors of agriculture.”

A premature conclusion of the TTIP negotiations, “threatens to undermine” the negotiating position of the US in resolving long-standing regulatory barriers, such as dairy certification requirements, the letter added.

In 2014, two bipartisan letters from US senators urged Froman to fight against geographical indication (GI) restrictions promoted by the EU, the letter continued. The EU has continued to use free trade agreements (FTAs) with trading partners to impose barriers on US exports under the pretense of protecting GIs.

“This practice is undermining established FTAs as well as those being actively negotiated,” the letter stated. To date, there has not been assurance the TTIP negotiations are addressing these concerns.

Finally, EU member countries continue to miss key deadlines for import approvals of biotechnology products, the letter said. Approvals of some products have been delayed even after positive evaluations by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).
The inability to implement existing regulations and provide certainty based on sound science related to agriculture policies “raises questions” about the success of new obligations and commitments established in the TTIP.

If the TTIP is to achieve the “robust support” of the agriculture industry, “agricultural trade issues must be addressed before negotiations conclude,” the letter said. The senators “strongly” urged Froman to continue to fight for a TTIP agreement that prioritizes US agriculture, including the removal of non-science based regulatory barriers and the reduction and removal of tariffs on agricultural products.

“In 2015, we had a record $12 billion agricultural trade deficit with Europe, due largely to barriers erected specifically to limit exports of dairy foods and other US farm products,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, who thanked the senators for highlighting the need to address agriculture concerns, and especially dairy issues, in the TTIP negotiations.

“Any successful European free trade agreement must break down those barriers,” Mulhern continued. “The US needs to soundly reject the EU’s desire to impose new barriers to competition around the world and to create taxpayer-funded advantages for its producers in our market. We should be using TTIP to level the playing field.”

The opportunity to grow dairy exports and rebalance the two-way trade deficit should be a top priority in TTIP negotiations going forward, according to Tom Suber, president of the US Dairy Export Council.

“US negotiators should not conclude a trade agreement with the Europeans without addressing the serious European trade barriers facing the US dairy industry, including both restrictive certification requirements and restrictions on generic cheese names,” Suber said.

“Names like Feta and Parmesan belong to everyone, not just a small group of producers in Europe,” said Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “The EU’s bid to gain exclusive rights to these names is totally unjustified, and the Senate letter is right to include this issue as one that must be addressed in any free trade agreement with the Europeans.”

Both the US and the EU have pledged to conclude TTIP negotiations this year. NMPF, IDFA and USDEC are all concerned that these critical dairy issues will not be appropriately resolved within that timeframe.

EU Report On TTIP Progress
On Wednesday, the European Commission published a report that presents a breakdown of progress made in the TTIP negotiations.

“We have come a long way since 2013 and have made some very concrete progress in certain parts of the negotiation,” the report said. “However, there are still many outstanding issues, especially in the area of market access negotiations.”

The EU has made textual proposals in nearly all areas of the negotiations, with four exceptions, one of which is intellectual property rights (IPR), where the EU has tabled texts only on a few points, for example on IPR border measures, and a concept paper on geographic indications (GIs).

While remaining technical, discussions are at present in what is usually referred to as the “middle game.” During this phase of the negotiations, discussions are based on the texts and market access offers on the table.

So far, regarding an agreement which will most likely contain somewhere between 25 and 30 chapters in the end, there are 17 consolidated texts on the table, according to the report. For the rest of the topics, there are textual proposals on the table either from the US or the EU.

In the area of market access, both sides have tabled textual proposals for provisions on trade in goods, agriculture and related non-tariff issues. These are currently in the process of being consolidated.

In the area of regulatory cooperation, consolidation of the textual proposals made by each side regarding technical barriers to trade by each side is ongoing. “Significant differences remain in our standard-setting and conformity assessment proposals, for which solutions are being explored.”

The sanitary and phytosanitary chapter deals with food safety and animal and plant health and on how to facilitate trade while fully respecting both sides’ high levels of protection.