Tuesday, 24 June 2008

US frustrated as EU Commission remains defiant in lifting chicken ban

News @ European Commission. The credibility of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) is at stake as the Commission will not be able to honour its commitments. On 13 May, Gunther Verheugen, Vice President of the European Commission and TEC chairman had promised that the Commission would put forward a proposal to lift the 1997 EU ban on the US chlorinated chickens (see The European Journal, June issue). On 28 May, the European Commission has submitted the proposal to the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health. The Commission’s Draft Regulation establishes strict rules and criteria for the use of antimicrobial substances. Operators would be required to set up controls to check the potential effects of the use of such substances. Moreover, operators are required under the Commission proposal to affix the sign of “chemical decontamination” or “treated with antimicrobial substances” on the poultry packaging. The operators are also required to rinse the poultry carcasses with potable water after treatment.

The Commission’s proposal sets a temporary authorisation of two years for the import of chickens for human consumption treated with chlorinate. Mr Verheugen has made significant efforts to work with the United States however he may have provided false hopes, as it will be very difficult for Member States to approve the proposal. At the Agriculture Council which took place on 19 May, it became clearer that the majority of the EU agriculture ministers are against the idea of authorising US poultry in the EU market. The poultry issue is among the main priorities of the TEC.

The US has already criticised the Commission’s proposal. Daniel Price, the Co-Chairman of the TEC, has said, according to Europolitics, that the Commission’s proposal “is the functional equivalent of leaving the ban in place.” According to Price, the European Commission is already undermining the TEC, adding, “The message being sent out is that if an issue is politically difficult or affects the commercial interests of local domestic constituents, it may not be appropriate for the TEC. This really is not about the poultry trade – it is about the TEC’s integrity.”

The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health voted on 2 June to keep the ban on US poultry imports, rejecting the European Commission proposal. All the EU Member States, with the exception of the UK which has abstained, have voted to keep in place the ban on imports of poultry rinsed in chlorine. According to the comitology rules, the Commission’s proposal will go to the Agriculture Council which is very likely to reject the proposal as the EU agriculture ministers have recently shown their opposition to such measure. This is effectively a blow to the EU and US trade relations. Günter Verheugen has promised that it would work with the Member States in order to find an agreement on lifting the ban on US chickens but up until now, it has achieved the opposite. The TEC’s credibility is already at stake in achieving little in the way of removing barriers to transatlantic trade. The EU-US Summit took place on 10 June and trade tensions are set to stay rather than be sorted. The summit unsurprisingly has not brought any major developments. According to a Joint Declaration, the EU and US have welcomed the work of the Transatlantic Economic Council yet it was stressed that that in order “To fulfill the TEC's mandate of creating a barrier-free transatlantic market, it is essential that both sides follow through on their commitments ….” The US is already considering taking the issue to the World Trade Organisation. In order for the TEC to start producing results, Gunter Verheugen needs support from the EU presidency which does not seem likely during the French presidency as it is obvious that France is not willing to remove regulatory trade barriers.

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