The apparent U.S.-European Union trade truce is less than a week old and the two parties disagree on whether agriculture will be on the table in follow-up discussions to flesh out an agreement, adding more uncertainty to the American farm economy.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reiterated the U.S. trade representative’s position that agriculture will be part of further talks. Robert Lighthizer last week told Senate Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Chairman Jerry Moran that no matter what the EU says, the U.S. “view is that we are negotiating about agriculture, period. That’s part of the process.” The panel questioned Lighthizer about the administration’s overall trade strategy.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made similar comments Sunday on Fox News.
But European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters Friday that “when you read the joint statement … you will see no mention of agriculture as such, you will see a mention of farmers and a mention of soybeans, which are part of the discussions and we will follow up that.” She added, “We are not negotiating about agricultural products.”
Perdue countered those comments in a call with reporters Monday. He said agriculture will be in the mix of issues the two trading partners will address in working groups that will delve into issues President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to on July 25 at a White House meeting.
“Lighthizer definitely plans to make agriculture a topic in these discussions going forward,” Perdue said. “I think the truce that was called was, let’s see how we can have conversations for the benefit of both the United States and the EU. For us, that includes agriculture.”
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Each side appears to offer a different interpretation of what was agreed to at the meeting between Trump and Juncker.
“We will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans,” a joint statement read. “This will open markets for farmers and workers, increase investment, and lead to greater prosperity in both the United States and the European Union.”
The two leaders also said that the U.S. would not impose further tariffs on EU products and that the EU would not levy retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports. The EU buying more U.S. soybeans could partially offset lost sales in China because of $34 billion in U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports and corresponding duties Beijing has placed on American goods, including soybeans.
The United States and the 28-nation bloc are also at odds over the EU’s enforcement to protect the geographical names of products such as feta and provolone cheeses. The EU has included such restrictions on hundreds of products in new trade agreements including with Japan.
“We feel the EU has become increasingly aggressive in their agreements and frankly we’ve become aggressive in our warnings to these countries who want to trade with us that they better be careful about accepting any kind of geographical indicators from the EU trying to brand or trademark or patent common food names that have been in the world for more than 100 years,” Perdue said.
Perdue spoke to reporters from Puerto Rico where he planned to review the Agriculture Department’s ongoing efforts to help the island recover from last year’s hurricanes. He stopped in the island territory after a July 27-29 meeting in Argentina of top agriculture leaders from the world’s 20 largest economies.