October 19, 2018 / 3:41 PM / 2 months ago

EU clear to start talks to increase U.S. beef imports

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union countries agreed on Friday to allow negotiations to start with Washington on increasing U.S. beef imports into Europe, in a move that could ease transatlantic trade tensions.

The Commission, which negotiates on behalf of the 28 EU nations, said it would open formal talks in the coming days on increasing the United State’s share of an existing 45,000-tonne quota. It concerns beef that has not been treated with certain growth hormones.

The Commission said it would do so in the coming days.

The beef issue is not part of EU-U.S. talks designed to improve transatlantic trade ties and remove tariffs on industrial goods following an agreement by U.S. President Donald Trump not to impose import duties on EU cars.

“Nevertheless, finding a mutually beneficial solution to our longstanding dispute over beef would be a major step forward in improving our trade cooperation,” the Council, which speaks on behalf of the EU’s members, said.

The dispute dates back to 1981 when the European Union banned the use of growth hormones in meat across the bloc, including imports, prompting a U.S. complaint at the World Trade Organization.

The EU and the United States eventually concluded an agreement in 2009 to grant a quota for hormone-free beef imports. However, under WTO rules, the quota also had to be made available to non-U.S. suppliers.

The U.S. share of that quota has slipped to less than 30 percent in the year to the end of June, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Australia and Uruguay, and more recently Argentina, have steadily increased their shares.

The Commission may also need to negotiate with them to ensure that they accept lower shares of the quotas.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, editing by Louise Heavens

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