Difficult Talks for EU Trade Deal Seen by U.S. Agriculture Chief

Differences between the U.S. and European Union on issues such as genetically engineered foods and crops will make negotiations for a transatlantic trade deal difficult, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

The European Commission’s proposal “to allow states and countries to opt-out of GE crops for cultivation and feed” makes it “very, very difficult,” Vilsack said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg News in Istanbul, where he’s at a G-20 agriculture ministers’ meeting.

The proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now in its second year of negotiations, faces sticking points on issues from energy to government procurement. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem this week said agriculture is a thorny topic because each side has a big economic stake in the outcome.

Vilsack complained about a recent European Commission proposal, announced April 22, to give member governments greater control over gene-modified crops used for animal or human food. EU member states now have the freedom to restrict, or prohibit use of EU-authorized GMOs on their territory.

“You can’t use and create a system of open or free trade if you are creating ways in which countries can develop barriers to products for political or cultural reasons,” Vilsack said. “You ought to give people the choice, then let the market decide.”

Crops Expand

Biotech crops were planted by 18 million farmers in 28 nations last year, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a nonprofit group funded by private and public institutions, including Vilsack’s U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. had the most biotech crops planted in 2014 with 73.1 million hectares (180.6 million acres), or about 40 percent of a global 181.5 million hectares, up 6 million from a year earlier. Brazil, Argentina and India trail the U.S.

Vilsack said genetically engineered crops enable more production under difficult circumstances, expanding the food supply and lowering food prices.

“That is why Americans are fortunate in the sense that we only spend around 10 percent of pay for food, and that compares very favorably.”

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