EXCLUSIVE / Lifting non-tariff barriers is the utmost priority in the transatlantic trade negotiations, particularly for the fruit and vegetable sector, said Copa-Cogeca, the association representing EU farmers.
Fruit and vegetable exports to the US are currently faced with trade barriers equivalent to a “10% duty”, Copa-Cogeca told EURACTIV.
Arnaud Petit, Copa-Cogeca’s Director of Commodities and Trade, told EURACTIV that the issue of a non-tariff barrier on fruits and vegetables had been on the table ever since begotiations began on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Parnership (TTIP).
A huge gap
According to Copa-Cogeca, EU fruits and vegetables are hugely disadvantaged in favour of US products. The US exports more than €2.5 billion worth of produce to the EU, while the EU exports less than €0.9 billion to the US.
Petit explained that the competitiveness in pricing of the US fruit and vegetable sector was not the only factor explaining this gap.
“EU fruit and vegetable operators are facing technical barriers to trade (3/4 of the possible gains),” he said.
Single port of entry
In a statement published in October, Copa-Cogeca said that all fruit and vegetable products from the EU have to go through the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, an administrative requirement which acts as a trade restriction on European products.
“In comparison, US fruits and vegetables can be exported quickly and reach all 500 million consumers via all ports,” the statement said.
Asked by EURACTIV to elaborate on the single entry port issue, Petit noted that the US government was imposing various requirements on Spanish exporters, such as employing a cooling system for citrus fruit being transported to the US market.
“This requirement is hugely costly and certainly not suited to the large volumes to be transported. The Spanish operators, therefore, have to send their citrus to the US market without a cooling system and use the ports which have sufficient cooling facilities,” he said.
“In the Spanish case, Philadelphia has become (the) only entry point to the US,” he stressed.
The Copa-Cogeca official emphasised that these matters had been tackled during the negotiations, but “much to our disappointment, we have not yet seen any real solutions to the problems that we are facing”.
“If we add all these requirements on top of each other, it may result in an equivalence of 10% duty in fruit and vegetables. And this would be more than enough to prohibit trade,” Petit explained.
EU does the same
Asked by EURACTIV, an EU source close to the issue denied that fruit and vegetable imports were restricted to a single port of entry, such as Philadelphia.
He admitted, however, that it makes sense to direct shipments towards ports where there are adequate resources for border inspections, particularly if there are quarantine issues.
The source explained that the EU does the same for products which require health certification. This reduces delays, and is in the best interest of exporters and importers of perishable products.
The official added that for plants, and for root stock and other material intended for planting, there are indeed restrictions ? but that they are not confined to Philadelphia.
EURACTIV was informed that there are 17 ports of entry open for this kind of material.
The same source noted that for other products, other restrictions may apply. Carrots, for instance, can only be imported to North Atlantic ports.
Petit stressed that such issues needed to be tackled by food safety officials in both the EU and US.
“Proposals need to be made on how to reach the common objective on high food safety, but in some cases with slightly different methods. We both share high respect for scientific evidence. Let us put this into practice.”
In a recent interview with EURACTIV, Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the US Food and Drug Administration, said that the new US food safety law will be “flexible” to EU imports and that there will be a “built-in harmonisation”.
The American official also noted that the US and Europe had a great opportunity to step up their collaboration and provide leadership on global food safety.