EU’s proposal to redistribute hormone-free beef quota could create tension

By Diana Yordanova, in Brussels

- Last updated on GMT

Beef quota plans to cause tension

Related tags Beef

The European Commission has attempted to heal a long-standing dispute with the United States by requesting authorisation from European Union (EU) ministers to open negotiations on the redistribution of quotas for hormone-free beef imported in European countries.

Speaking to GlobalMeatNews, the secretary general of the European Livestock and Meat Trades Union (UECBV), Jean-Luc Mériaux said he supports the tasks and forging “a consensus aiming at consolidating trade flows”​.

At stake is future access to EU beef markets – for which a memorandum of understanding (MoU) struck 10 years ago between Brussels and Washington DC led to the EU opening an import quota of 45,000 tonnes of hormone-free beef coming from qualified suppliers.

But the trade in beef has been developing since, with other countries interested in supplying Europe. And as the TRQ (tariff-rate quota) was actually made open to any beef supplier from any country complying with the EU import requirements and quality standards, “step-by-step other countries increased their share in quota usage at the expense of the USA”​, Mériaux recalled.

Indeed, last year (2017), just over 16,000 tonnes of fresh bovine meat was imported from American suppliers to EU countries, at value of nearly EUR182 million, figures from EU statistical agency Eurostat show. The biggest importer was the Netherlands to which the US exported beef worth nearly EUR131 million that year.

The USA has been pushing back against what it regards as restricted access, hence talks are being held. And although the Commission highlighted any deal will comply with the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), major beef suppliers, such as Australia, Argentina and Uruguay have told the EU they are concerned about the negotiations’ outcome.

The UECBV’s secretary general has been expecting preliminary negative opinion form other exporters. He said: “These countries will understand what the options and their trade interest will be: either to maintain a trade flow at a lower level compared with the previous years, but still higher compared to the situation prior to the MoU, or to fully lose the trade flow.” 

Under the current plan devised by the Commission, hormone-free beef tariff-rate quotas would not be increased, but rather split into two – having one entirely allocated to the USA and another for all other supplying countries. For now, the quantities of the sub-quotas remain unclear and will be agreed in the negotiating process, the UECBV chief explained.

The revision of the hormone-free beef quota, however, is not going to influence trade relations on other products between the EU and the US, the Commission has stressed, notably hormone-treated beef, which remains banned in the EU. “The said quota will continue to cover only products complying with Europe's high food safety and health standards, in this case only non-hormone treated beef”​, said EU agriculture and rural development Commissioner Phil Hogan when requesting the negotiation mandate earlier this month (3 September).

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