As negotiators from the U.S. and the European Union continue trade talks, agriculture industry leaders are not overly optimistic a mutually-beneficial trade agreement will be reached.
Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, likes the idea of open trade with European nations, but he knows that is easier said than done.
"From USAPEEC's perspective, and the U.S. poultry industry, there is nothing we would like to see more than a successful agreement with Europe," said Sumner. "However, the likelihood of that happening is a long stretch. They've got so many issues, and from what I can see we're miles apart. It's nice to dream and fantasize about it, but I can't see our interests getting excited about the prospects of starting to export poultry to Europe. We all agree it would be nice, we wish our government and their government success, but we're not holding our breath."
Sumner said that the U.S. poultry industry has been out of the European market since 1997, and to date, little progress has been made in those 16 years.
The trade talks, which were introduced to the world during U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address on Feb. 12, seek to open trans-Atlantic commerce. But sources have said that agriculture may be the deal breaker. EU leaders do not want the negotiations to include their restrictions on genetically modified crops or other regulations that keep U.S. farm products out of Europe. However, Americans are adamant that all aspects of agriculture trade remain a part of those talks.
"Any free trade agreement that doesn't cover agriculture is in trouble," Cathleen Enright, executive vice president at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, told the Associated Press.
Some European leaders have even suggested that more sensitive issues, such as those posed with agricultural trade, be discussed after a major trade deal is completed. But Obama, speaking to his export council, balked at the idea, the Associated Press reported. "There are certain countries whose agriculture sector is very strong, who tended to block at critical junctures the kinds of broad-based trade agreements that would make it a good deal for us," said Obama. "If one of the areas where we've got the greatest comparative advantage is cordoned off from an overall trade deal, it's very hard to get something going."
Agricultural issues have for a long time hindered attempts to expand trans-Atlantic trade. The U.S. protests EU restrictions, while Europeans want the U.S. to reduce agricultural subsidies. Because of all of those existing trade barriers and hurdles, combined with the influence of European agriculture interests, Sumner said it would be very difficult to get a meaningful agreement.
If an agreement is achieved, Sumner said the U.S. poultry industry would still have some challenges getting into European markets, as Brazil currently dominates European imports. China and Thailand have also recently gained access, which would offer more competition.