U.S. Farm Chief Presses EU to Throw Doors Open to American Foods

Perdue in Europe 013020
The United States and European Union share many common goals but do not have an official Free Trade Agreement in place ( MGN )

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signaled that a renewed transatlantic trade truce will require more ambitious European Union efforts to ease imports of American foods.

Perdue criticized an idea being pursued by the bloc of a piecemeal accord that would scale back European regulatory barriers to individual American products such as shellfish, saying a U.S. farm-trade deficit with the EU of $10 billion to $12 billion was “unsustainable and unreasonable.”

Instead, he said, Europe should reject the “political science of fear” over U.S. farm goods and ease market access for them in general.

“We’re looking for real substance,” Perdue said from Rome on Thursday during a conference call with reporters. “It depends on recognizing international standards.”

The comments challenge Europe’s better-safe-than-sorry approach to food safety -- a stance that has led to longstanding EU bans on hormone-treated beef and “chlorinated” chicken, and to a slow approval process in Europe for genetically modified foods.

The remarks also highlight the obstacles to reviving a July 2018 transatlantic commercial truce. A fraying of that deal in recent months prompted U.S. President Donald Trump and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen last week to pledge fresh efforts to reach a trade accord, which she said could also include matters related to energy and technology.

Any failure could prompt an escalation in tit-for-tat tariffs that began in 2018 when Trump invoked national-security considerations to impose duties on steel and aluminum from Europe.

Perdue described talks he held on Monday with EU officials in Brussels as “very productive.” And, while declining to speculate about the elements of any transatlantic farm deal because it is being handled in Washington by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Perdue held out the prospect of results within weeks.

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