Suckler cows sector could be hit by EU-US trade agreement, study says

By Carmen Paun, in Brussels

- Last updated on GMT

EU producers may face competitive disadvantages
EU producers may face competitive disadvantages

Related tags: European union, Us, Beef, Poultry

The conclusion of a Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the US could have serious adverse consequences for the EU suckler cows sector, European experts claim.

A new study, presented on Wednesday (3 September) in the European Parliament in Brussels, argued US-sourced beef imports could increase in volume and fall in price. This "would dent considerably the production of suckler cow-based beef left in the EU"​, read the study, which was conducted jointly by researchers from the AgroParisTech & Centre d’Études Prospectives et d’Informations Internationales (CEPII); the Paris School of Economics (PSE); the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and the University of Munich.

"The US is very competitive [when it comes to beef production] and liberalisation could cause problems for the suckler cow sector in particular,"​ said Jean-Christophe Bureau, research associate at CEPII.

This could bear significant negative consequences for countries where suckler cow production is mostly concentrated in the EU, such as Ireland and France, the study said, since it would affect "areas with limited production alternatives, and where the local economy depends a great deal on the livestock sector and the related industry".

The Irish centre-right vice-president of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness expressed concerns about the issue at the launch of the study, noting that the suckler cows sector is already under pressure in her country. "It seems to me that the biggest loser [of TTIP] is the suckler cows sector,"​ she said.

The current protection offered by the EU through its tariffs on US beef imports is currently very high, reaching 45.1%, according to the data provided by the study.

Moreover, if US and EU trade is liberalised, without meat safety controls being brought closer together, EU producers may face competitive disadvantages because they have to comply with more stringent EU health rules, the study warned.

One example of the differences is in pathogen reduction treatments for meat, according to the study: "EU legislation imposes testing for pathogens all along the processing chains, and the use of clear water. US legislation allows less stringent procedures and an end-of-chain treatment, resulting in lower operational costs,"​ the study noted.

But the study authors were also wary of weakening EU standards to meet American rules. They noted gradual changes – for instance the European Commission’s 2013 temporary approval of lactic acid-rinsed beef – "could undermine the current EU strategy to ensure safe food, which is based on controlling every step of the food chain."

TTIP may bring troubles for EU poultry producers as well, the study said, since US exports to Europe could increase significantly due to a lower price supported by a currently weaker US dollar. American sales could also squeeze out competing poultry exporters to Europe in Brazil and Thailand, according to the study.

There was also some good news for EU meat producers: the study noted that, in a scenario where TTIP would eliminate all tariffs and reduce by 25% non-tariff barriers, the EU could export 404% more red meat to the EU and 289% more white meat. But since the amount of red and white meat traded between the EU and the US is currently very low, these percentages should be treated with caution, the study authors said.

Related topics: Meat

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