President Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reached an agreement last July on the negotiating parameters of a hoped-for US-EU trade agreement.
One of the parameters was that agriculture was not open for discussion, except for soybeans, and E.U. officials have repeated that assertion time and time and again since then.
The E.U. has “made it very clear that, from our side, we are not going to include agriculture. That has been stated very clearly from the beginning,” E.U. Trade Commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom said in January.
“As far as agriculture is concerned, the European Union can import more soybeans from the U.S., and it will be done,” Juncker said at a joint press conference with Trump on July 25. Trump said nothing to suggest he wanted more than that.
Either he misunderstood or he wasn’t paying attention or he forgot, because the White House is up in arms about the EU’s refusal to talk about agriculture.
The White House is also insisting on adding auto tariffs to the mix, even though Trump and Juncker agreed that the talks would be limited to non-automotive industrial goods. But with Trump threatening to hit the EU with a 25% car tariff, E.U. officials have reluctantly agreed to talk about auto trade.
Anyone who followed the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations during the Obama administration, knows that reaching a comprehensive US-EU agreement on agricultural issues would be about as easy as achieving a permanent peace accord between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The issues were numerous, complicated and politically fraught, and the EU negotiators showed little interest in trying to resolve them. That impasse was the principal reason that the two sides couldn’t come to terms on the TTIP.
There is no reason to think that U.S. negotiators would have any better luck this time around, especially given Trump’s low popularity in Europe.
European publics think wrongly that American food standards are lower than theirs. They think genetically modified foods are toxic, even though no one has ever suffered an ill health effect from eating them. And they’re particularly incensed about chlorine-washed chickens from the United States. This is not rational. American chicken processors are allowed to dip chicken carcasses in water mixed with a small amount of chlorine dioxide to protect consumers from food-borne illnesses. E.U. chicken processors aren’t allowed to use chlorine. In 2017, there were outbreaks of campylobacter in Europe from people eating contaminated chicken. E.U. health officials have acknowledged that eating chlorine-washed chicken poses no health threat, but they have been bombarded with resistance from interest groups.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative declined to comment Monday.
“We certainly want the E.U. to include ag in the talks that were going to have with them,” said David Salmonsen of the American Farm Bureau. “There are lots of issues to talk about that we think need to be talked about in any comprehensive trade negotiation.”
But see, that’s the thing; this is not going to be a comprehensive trade negotiation. It will be limited to non-automotive industrial goods, with, okay, maybe some discussion of car tariffs. That was the deal that Trump and Juncker stuck.
So, the bottom line is that these new negotiations may be doomed to failure even before they’ve started.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, has warned that Congress probably will not ratify any deal that doesn’t include an agreement on agriculture.
“Bipartisan members of the Senate and the House of Representatives have voiced their objections to a deal without agriculture, making it unlikely that any such deal would pass Congress,” Grassley said in a press release Monday.
Most of the Europeans’ objections to imports of U.S. farm products are nonsensical, but a deal’s a deal. If Trump wanted agriculture included in the negotiations, he shouldn’t have allowed the issuance of a US-EU joint statement of negotiating objectives that doesn’t mention the word “agriculture.”