What seemed like a deadlock on the level of principles, regarding U.S. beef imports to the EU, turned out to be soluble in a commercial trade-off. A festering dispute about a European ban against hormone-fed beef from the United States was solved this week when the EU agreed to a big expansion of its import quota for non-hormone fed U.S. beef.In return the U.S. agreed to drop a steep rise in new sanctions on selected imports from the EU – including France’s iconic Roquefort cheese and Italian mineral water – that was due to take effect on May 9.
In practical terms, the deal simply postponed any showdown on the beef issue. It seems unlikely European consumers will start buying U.S. beef – with or without hormones. Already U.S. exporters use only a small percentage of their existing quota for non-hormone beef allowed by the EU.
As explained at a recent lunch on Biotechnology held by the European Institute, Dan Rotenberg, Counselor of Agriculture for the European Commission, explained the impact of the dispute: “Because the EU forbids selling beef with hormones, the growing demand for imported beef to the EU has been filled by Brazil and Argentina, not the U.S.” He and other EU delegates said that European consumers’ fears of hormones had become a political obstacle to ending the beef deadlock. A U.S. official reminded the meeting that the World Trade Organization had condemned the ban as “not science-based.”.
The current agreement is a 4-year deal with the U.S. dropping current sanctions completely in the fourth year, while the two sides continue to search for a longer-term agreement.