Europe must avoid US protectionist approach to trade talks

EU and UK negotiators must avoid the US protectionist approach to trade talks which has worked against the interests of American farmers, said Darci Vetter, former chief agricultural negotiator for the US Trade Representative under the Obama administration.

Addressing the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) conference in Killashee House Hotel in Naas, Co Kildare, Ms Vetter said Irish agri-food stakeholders have done well to meet their UK counterparts to commit to maintaining future trade ties post-Brexit.

In sharp contrast, the US has disrupted its trade links with its neighbours in heated North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) talks.

On day three of the Trump administration, the US left the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks, destabilising its trade with Japan.

“US grain exporters have gone to meet their trade partners in Mexico to make it clear that, regardless of what might happen at the Nafta negotiating table, they promised to remain long- term trading partners,” said Ms Vetter.

She said that the industry leaders attending the ASA conference had all made similar overtures to their existing trading partners. In light of the uncertainty surrounding the EU-UK Brexit talks, she said these commitments were in everyone’s shared interests.

“There seems to be a lot of commercial sector engagement between the UK and Ireland, people talking about ongoing trade regardless of the outcomes of the Brexit talks. That’s really smart,” she said.

“There is a sense that global engagement is very important to the EU member states, who want to maintain global supply chains, which is also very much in the EU interests. The US reductionist view of trade talks is proving very divisive. They’re looking at trade in terms of winning and losing. If I buy more commodities from Mexico, and use those items to make goods which I then export, I’m not ‘losing’.

“There has been a kickback in the US against the Trump administration, whose protectionist approach is not serving US interests.”

Ms Vetter said the US administration’s decision to exit the TTIP talks left the door ajar for the EU to enhance its trade links with Japan. She said the EU is taking a sensible approach to its trade talks, working towards maintaining global trade channels.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by ASA showed 51% of professionals working with the agri-food industry believe Brexit could be positive for Ireland; this figure rose from 28% in 2016.

More than 400 delegates attended the ASA conference. Headline speakers included Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development; Prof Nicola Shadbolt, director of Fonterra Co-op; Jeroen Elfers, director of Corporate Affairs, Friesland Campina; and Aidan O’Driscoll, secretary general at the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine.

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