By Chris Prentice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. farmer, rancher and food and beverage groups pressed the Trump administration on Friday to ensure that any new trade talks with the European Union boost their market access and decrease regulatory hurdles to that access.
At a hearing on U.S. negotiating objectives for trade talks with the European Union, groups representing farmers and food and beverage companies said reducing tariffs and curtailing regulatory restrictions should be a key objective.
The U.S. Trade Representative notified lawmakers in October of its plans to pursue the trade talks, though it has been unclear if agriculture would be included.
"It is fundamental that food and agriculture issues are a key component of this agreement," U.S. Grains Council Director of Trade Policy Floyd Gaibler said at the hearing.
Testimony from the hearing will feed into the USTR's formulation of negotiating objectives for the talks. It is unclear exactly when those discussions will begin.
In addition to the central demand that the talks include their goods, farm and food groups on Friday urged U.S. officials to address tariff barriers and other regulatory and labeling issues that curtail U.S. access to the lucrative European market.
The European Union has more stringent standards than the United States regarding the use of pesticides, hormones and biotechnology in food crops. U.S. producers of products from beef to pistachios say these limit their access to the European market.
"These are long-standing issues that we have struggled with for a long period of time," said Gaibler, referring to the restrictions on biotechnology.
He also stressed the importance of the removal of antidumping duties the EU has placed on U.S. ethanol.
Grocery Manufacturers Association Federal Affairs Director Nancy Wilkins also pressed to make biotechnology a key issue, saying the EU's labeling requirements for genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, dramatically increase costs for U.S. food companies.
Wilkins also pressed U.S. officials to suspend existing tariffs on steel and aluminum while the negotiations are taking place. Under Republican President Donald Trump, the United States has placed national security tariffs on steel and aluminum, prompting other countries to slap hefty retaliatory levies on U.S. goods.
The dairy sector said the United States should push back on Europe's labeling requirements related to geographic designations for commonly-known cheese.
Europe prevents non-European companies from using the names like Parmesan and Asiago for their cheeses.
These geographic restrictions "give short shrift" to these common terms, said Shawna Morris of the National Milk Producers Federation and U.S. Dairy Export Council.
(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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Updated Date: Dec 15, 2018 00:06:13 IST