Europe removes agriculture barriers to U.S. trade talks

BRUSSELS Mon Feb 4, 2013 4:02pm EST

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union dropped its ban on some U.S. meat imports on Monday in a gesture aimed at starting talks on a free-trade pact that would encompass about half the world's economic output.

Brussels and Washington want to deepen a relationship that accounts for a third of global trade, and ending the EU import ban on live pigs and beef washed in lactic acid is meant to show the Europeans are serious about a deal.

The ban will be lifted from February 25, dropping European objections that were based on differing hygiene and husbandry methods in meat production. U.S. farmers have long regarded these concerns as unscientific.

The EU may also consider easing restrictions on imports of U.S. animal fat, known as tallow, used in biofuels.

"The United States had certain preconditions for talks to start. We want to show them that Europe can deliver," said a senior EU diplomat involved in preparing for negotiations.

A U.S. spokeswoman said the United States was "pleased" that the EU had lifted its import bans on live pigs and beef washed with lactic acid, but stopped short of saying that this was sufficient to clear the way for U.S.-EU trade talks to begin.

"Effective February 25, these measures will help increase exports of U.S. beef and live swine to European customers," said Andrea Mead, spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office, said in an email.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will travel to Washington on Tuesday to put the finishing touches to a joint EU-U.S. report that is expected to recommend going ahead with free trade negotiations.

De Gucht told Reuters last month these would be "difficult negotiations". [ID:nL6N0AW002] However, Europe and the United States both seek an economic boost after meagre growth since the global crisis of 2008/2009.

Import tariffs between the European Union and the United States are already low, and the real benefit would come from increased access to each other's markets, as well as common regulations that would remove the high costs that smaller companies face if they want to export beyond their borders.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden last week in Berlin that she saw "positive signs" in the push for talks.

A deal could increase Europe's economic output by 65 billion euros ($88 billion) a year, a 0.5 percent rise in the EU's gross domestic product, the European Commission calculates.

However, Washington is worried about getting caught up in endless negotiations with the 27-nation bloc.

No date has yet been set for the release of the joint EU-U.S. report on the viability of trade talks, initially expected by the end of last year, generating some concern among European and U.S. companies who support the deal.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and David Brunnstrom)

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