The dairy industry praises a bipartisan group of 26 senators for urging U.S. negotiators to address the needs of agriculture – including key dairy issues – in any free trade agreement with the European Union. In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, the senators noted that the United States’ share of the European agricultural import market is shrinking due to both tariff and non-tariff trade barriers.
“A final [trade] agreement that does not include a strong framework for agriculture could have a negative impact on Congressional support for this deal,” the senators said.
Among other agricultural issues, the letter singled out the need to address restrictive certification requirements on U.S. dairy exports, as well as the EU’s efforts to capture the sole use of food names long considered generic in this country. Decades after parmesan, feta and asiago became household favorites in the United States, Europe now argues these names can only appear on cheeses produced in Italy and Greece, blocking U.S. sales of the products to the EU and increasingly affecting sales to various foreign markets. In addition, the EU is seeking a leg up on U.S. food competitors by insisting that the U.S. government shoulder the costs to enforce protection for hundreds of EU geographical indications in the U.S. domestic market.
The senators cited two earlier letters that urged negotiators to oppose European restrictions on the use of common food names. The EU’s actions are undermining both current free trade agreements and those under negotiations, they said. They added that the concerns cited in those letters had not been addressed so far in negotiations over the U.S.-EU trade agreement, known officially as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP).
Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, thanked the senators for highlighting the need to address agriculture concerns, and especially dairy issues, in the T-TIP negotiations. “In 2015, we had a record $12 billion agricultural trade deficit with Europe, due largely to barriers erected specifically to limit exports of dairy foods and other U.S. farm products,” Mulhern said. “Any successful European free trade agreement must break down those barriers. The U.S. needs to soundly reject the EU’s desire to impose new barriers to competition around the world and to create taxpayer-funded advantages for its producers in our market. We should be using T-TIP to level the playing field.”
Tom Suber, president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, said that the opportunity to grow dairy exports and re-balance the two-way trade deficit should be a top priority in T-TIP negotiations going forward. “U.S. negotiators should not conclude a trade agreement with the Europeans without addressing the serious European trade barriers facing the U.S. dairy industry, including both restrictive certification requirements and restrictions on generic cheese names,” he said.
“Names like feta and parmesan belong to everyone, not just a small group of producers in Europe,” added Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “The EU’s bid to gain exclusive rights to these names is totally unjustified, and the Senate letter is right to include this issue as one that must be addressed in any free trade agreement with the Europeans.”