EU Pushes Back on U.S. Move Concerning Beef Trade

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By Len Bracken

The European Union pushed back Dec. 23 against the initial move by the Obama administration to reinstate tariffs tied to the EU ban on hormone-treated beef.

The EU has met the commitments in a 2009 agreement with the U.S. on imports of hormone-free beef, an EU official said in a Dec. 23 statement obtained by Bloomberg BNA. The previous day U.S. officials said U.S. beef had been denied EU market access despite the U.S.-EU Memorandum of Understanding on High-Quality Beef, which is beef raised without growth-stimulating hormones.

“The EU has fully complied, both in the letter and in spirit, with the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the United States in 2009, establishing a hormone-free beef quota,” the EU official said in response to Dec. 22 statements by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

USTR said in a media statement that it was poised to reinstate punitive tariffs authorized by the World Trade Organization in 1999 that stem from a dispute settlement ruling the previous year against the EU's policy of banning hormone-treated beef. U.S. tariffs on an array of agricultural items were phased out from 2009 to 2011 as a result of the Memorandum of Understanding.

‘Unfortunate Step Backward.'

“The termination of this agreement and the possible application of duties on EU exports to the U.S. would certainly constitute a most unfortunate step backward in the strong EU-U.S. trade relations,” the EU official said, adding that the EU will continue to implement the memorandum of understanding and stands ready to listen to any concerns of the U.S. administration.

USTR said in an advance release of a Federal Register notice that non-U.S. exporters of high quality beef products have been able to fill a “a substantial part” of the EU's 45,000 metric ton duty-free quota.

While the quota is not reserved for the U.S., the cuts of meat specified in the Memorandum of Understanding correspond with grain-fed beef, according to a U.S. trade analyst who added that the EU is allowing Argentine and Australian producers of grass-fed beef to fill the quota with their high-quality beef products.

In practice, USTR said in the notice, the quota has not provided enough “benefits to the U.S. beef industry sufficient to compensate for the economic harm resulting from the EU ban on all but specially-produced U.S. beef.”

The EU is committed to keeping its high food safety and health standards, the EU official said, adding that only products complying with these standards will be allowed into the EU market.

“Changing the EU's ban on hormone-treated beef was never part of the negotiations with the United States for a trade agreement,” the EU official said, referring to the U.S.-EU talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that both sides have said will not culminate in the near future.

USTR said in its Dec. 22 statement that the European Commission “had argued that this issue should be resolved through TTIP.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Len Bracken in Washington at lbracken@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

For More Information

The U.S.-EU Memorandum of Understanding on High-Quality Beef is available at https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/asset_upload_file254_15654.pdf.

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