By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union needs to redress a $10-12 billion (£9.1 billion) imbalance in farm produce trade with the United States and adapt its food safety rules to reflect “sound science”, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture said on Monday.
Sonny Perdue, on a five-day trip to Europe, said both Washington and Brussels were eager to reset the transatlantic relationship but that rules should be based on real risks not potential hazards.
The U.S. trade deficit in agriculture was not logical given the EU had almost double the number of consumers as the United States and only two-thirds of the arable land, Perdue said.
Agriculture has proved a block in U.S.-EU trade talks, with Brussels resisting Washington’s demand that it be included. Perdue said tariffs on farm produce could be tackled at a later stage, but regulatory barriers need to be addressed now.
The EU, for example, bans hormone-treated beef or poultry washed with peracetic acid to remove pathogens.
“You know what it is? It’s vinegar essentially…. We don’t use chlorine any more to treat chicken,” Perdue told reporters, pointing to EU acceptance of washing salad with chlorine.
Perdue said he was aware of EU difficulties given what he said was fear-mongering by some campaign groups, but EU leaders needed to get the message across.
“The European public needs to understand that their producers are going to be at a huge disadvantage… if they choose to be a technology-free zone,” he said.
The executive European Commission has mooted removing barriers to boost trade in EU apples and pears and U.S. shellfish, but Perdue said this would only scratch the surface.
“We’re not going to get there with apples and pears and shellfish. There are other things have to happen,” he said.
The United States and the EU are already locked in a tit-for-tat tariff dispute that could escalate if Trump follows through with a threat to hit EU cars.
The U.S. and EU spirits sectors, facing tariffs on both sides of the Atlantic, called on Monday for urgent action to return to the tariff-free trade they have enjoyed since 1997.
U.S. whisky exports to Europe have fallen by 29% since EU imposed tariffs in mid-2018.
“Eventually these broader issues will have to be resolved one way or another. Both trading partners are going to have to find a path to come together because our economies are so linked,” Chris Swonger, president of the U.S. Distilled Spirits Council, told Reuters.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)