- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2013

American farmers stormed Washington on Wednesday, telling a Senate committee they hope any free-trade deal with Europe would open the food markets they’ve been kept out of by that continent’s politicians.

In a hearing to address concerns over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, growers told the Senate Finance Committee they rely on exports, but the European Union uses unfair regulatory practices to make it difficult for them to compete in Europe.

From barring some U.S. farmers from exporting to Europe because of the way they process their food to delaying others with slow review processes, the European Union uses unscientific methods to put exporters at a disadvantage, they warned, adding that any trade agreement with Europe that does not address this issue would be useless.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the finance committee, seemed to get the message.

“We’re talking about a landmark opportunity,” Mr. Baucus said. “But for the TTIP to live up to its potential, we’ll first have to tackle a number of challenges. For example, we must address the EU’s unscientific and unjustified barriers to U.S. agricultural exports, including beef and poultry.”

Although the issue did not come up during Wednesday’s Senate panel hearing, some top European officials have suggested postponing negotiations over a trade deal with the U.S. because of accusations that the National Security Agency spied on its citizens and top politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding recently suggested that the spying efforts could “easily derail” trade negotiations, during a speech at Yale University, saying that “for ambitious and complex negotiations to succeed, there needs to be trust among the negotiating partners.”

The Europeans may call for stricter data protection laws in the U.S., as part of a trade agreement. “Otherwise, the European Parliament may decide to reject” the deal, Ms. Reding said.

But the U.S. has its own concerns about a trade deal with Europe, particularly in the farming industry.

Mr. Baucus pointed out that the U.S. beef industry is recognized around the world for its food safety standards. The World Organization for Animal Health and CODEX have declared American beef production methods “perfectly safe,” he said.

The farmers also talked about how important exports are to their industry. Ryan McCormick, president of the Montana Grain Growers Association, said wheat farmers export about half of what they produce.

“Not only do we depend on trade, the world depends on us as a reliable supplier of high-quality wheat,” he testified.

Exports are even more important in Montana, where more than 95 percent of wheat farmers’ potential customers live out side of the state.

“Those who live within the U.S. do not consume enough wheat products to fully utilize the abundance of our nation’s farms,” Mr. McCormick said.

“We simply do not have a large enough consumer base to support our state’s large agricultural production,” he added. “In fact, if Montana citizens were required to consume all of the wheat we produce within our borders, every person would have to eat 400 loaves of bread every day.”

The other witnesses included Michael Ducker, vice president and chief operating officer at FedEx Corp., Dave Ricks, senior vice president of Eli Lilly & Co., and William Roenigk, senior vice president at the National Chicken Council.

The witnesses also expressed their desires for Congress to give the Obama administration Trade Promotion Authority. Such power would allow the president’s team to negotiate trade treaties that Congress either ratifies or rejects “as is,” rather than amending the treaty and forcing more negotiations with the other country, including potentially on issues that already had been “traded off” for foreign concessions the U.S. Congress wants to keep.

Both Mr. Baucus and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the finance committee, seemed to echo these concerns.

“Congress needs to set priorities as the administration starts negotiating with Europe,” Mr. Baucus said. “We can do that through Trade Promotion Authority. I’m pleased that President Obama has requested TPA.”

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