In a gesture aimed at starting talks on a free-trade pact that would encompass about half the world's economic output, the EU dropped its ban on some US meat imports.
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. US farmers have long regarded these concerns as unscientific. The EU may also consider easing restrictions on imports of US animal fat, known as tallow, used in biofuels.
"The US 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 US spokeswoman said the US was "pleased" that the EU had lifted its import bans , but stopped short of saying that this was sufficient to clear the way for US-EU trade talks to begin.
"Effective February 25, these measures will help increase exports of US beef and live swine to European customers," said Andrea Mead, spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative's office. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht travelled to Washington to put the finishing touches to a joint EU-US report that is expected to recommend going ahead with free trade negotiations. De Gucht told Reuters last month these would be "difficult negotiations". However, Europe and the US both seek an economic boost after meagre growth since the global crisis of 2008-09.
Import tariffs between the EU and the US 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 US 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 EUR65 billion (US$88 billion) a year, a 0.5% rise in the EU's gross domestic product, the European Commission calculates.
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