A trade deal with the US could open the doors to hormone meat and genetically modified food being available in the EU, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has indicated.
He hopes to discuss the plan to lift barriers to imports between the US and the EU with US president Barack Obama when he meets him tomorrow in Washington.
Asked about making concessions on food to the US, Mr Kenny said there was a “new pragmatism in Europe about the way we are going about business”. He said that he told his fellow EU leaders during the Brussels summit that Ireland was an example of this pragmatism in that it had to make difficult choices in relation to the financial crisis.
“When discussions start, the range of what will be discussed will be very broad. We are anxious for Irish food to get into the US,” he said.
He hopes negotiations on the free trade deal estimated to be worth €220bn to the EU, will begin in June and he believed it was optimistic but possible that they could conclude next year.
On the US side, getting acceptance on a trade agreement from Congress will be difficult as it tends to regard such deals as an opportunity for jobs to move off-shore. Some senators pushing for an agreement say their top priority is to get access for US beef and pork into Europe.
In Europe, France especially has been concerned about any compromises that the EU would be forced to make on agriculture and food safety, that include hormone-fed beef and GM products. Recently, they reached a compromise on chlorine-cleaned chicken.
Currently, imports of GM crops and hormone-treated beef into the EU is banned as food safety regulations are stricter in the EU than in the US.
The US has complained to the World Trade Organisation that the “precautionary principle” adopted by the EU is not scientific.
However, any change to this would have to be agreed by all EU countries.
Mr Kenny’s statement that Europe has become more pragmatic about doing business since the economic crisis, echoes the words of the commission’s trade commissioner Karl De Gucht, who will lead the negotiations due to begin in June.
While the EU has been reticent to state that food will be part of the deal, the outgoing US trade representative Ron Kirk insisted that “everything’s on the table across all sectors” including agriculture and genetically modified goods.
After the two-day summit Mr Kenny said there was a recognition of the interdependence and interconnection between countries by all sides now. Both the US and Europe had come through a difficult time and both recognised the potential of a trade agreement, but it would have implications for both, he said.
Europe was beginning to understand that the differences between countries’ standards needed to be decreased, he added.
This issue and subsidies to farmers are the big obstacles to concluding a trade deal, as tariffs have been reduced to little more than 4%.
Mr Kenny added that he was bringing Irish goods with him as presents for the US vice-president, the first lady, and to the mayor of New York.
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