US fights EU unfair beef practices

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Beef cattle at prison farm.
Beef cattle at an Ohio prison farm.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Office of the United States Trade Representative is taking action against the European Union’s (EU) unfair trade practices that discriminate against U.S. beef imports.

Acting on the request of the U.S. beef industry, the USTR has scheduled a public hearing and is seeking public comments in connection with the EU’s ban on most U.S. beef products.

If the trade action resumes, the United States would reinstate industry-supported tariffs on a list of EU products imported into the United States.

Over the past two years the U.S. government has attempted, without success, to engage the European Commission in discussions about ways to rectify the situation.

According to the USTR, the EU’s ban on U.S. beef is not based on sound science and discriminates against American beef farmers, ranchers, and producers.

WTO agrees

“The WTO determined that the European Union’s ban on U.S. beef imports violates its international trade obligations,” said Ambassador Michael Froman. “The EU has failed to live up to assurances to address this issue, and it’s now time to take action.”

Background. In 1998, the EU lost a case at the WTO for banning American beef. In 2009, the U.S. negotiated an agreement to allow market access for specially produced beef that meets the EU’s standards, but that agreement has not worked as intended, the USTR office says.

The European Commission had argued that this issue should be resolved through T-TIP, but European officials decided after their trade minister’s meeting in September not to complete T-TIP this year.

The U.S. beef industry exports an average $6 billion per year.

“Restrictive European Union policies continue to deny EU consumers access to U.S. beef at affordable prices,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “For several years we have been asking the EU to fix an agreement that is clearly broken, despite its original promise to provide a favorable market for U.S. beef.”

Over the past two years the U.S. government has attempted, without success, to engage the European Commission in discussions about ways to rectify the situation.

Next step

An interagency committee of trade experts and economists will participate in the hearing and review public comments on the particular products and EU member states that may be subject to the imposition of additional duties, with the goal of resolving this dispute.

“The 20-year EU ban has been in effect far too long. It is not based on fact and should be lifted,” said House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson. “This announcement is welcome news for America’s beef producers.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was elated at the news.

“The European Union has left us no choice but to seek compensation for the long-standing mistreatment of U.S. beef exports,” said President Tracy Brunner.

“Our temporary agreement with the EU was meant to be an opportunity to build a bridge of trust between U.S. beef producers and EU consumers, and to compensate the United States for the losses we have suffered as a result of the E.U.’s hormone ban.”

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