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TTIP is “not about full liberalisation”, EU Agri Chief Dacian Ciolos says – interview

In an interview with EU Trade Insights, Dacian Ciolos, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, confirmed the Commission’s position that the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US was not about lowering the Union’s food standards and that pragmatic progress can be made between the two Parties on agriculture.

CIOLOSIn February, the EU and the US exchanged initial market access offers on goods. The European tariff offer appeared to be much more ambitious than the one tabled by the United States. Did the EU adopt the right strategy in offering a high level of liberalisation at the very start of the negotiations? The EU refuses to fully liberalise a certain number of “sensitive” agricultural products. Can we expect a change in the Commission’s position during these trade talks? 

Negotiating strategy is clearly something I discuss internally, with my colleagues and not in public. I am an active member of the group of Commissioners sharing responsibility for this negotiation. Of course, depending on the evolution of the negotiations, our strategy evolves – this is part of any trade talks. The most important point is to be very clear with our citizens on the goals of the negotiations – to be clear about what is on the table, what is not. Then, it is our duty, with our team of negotiators, to define the best ways to defend the interests of our citizens. This involves some behind the scenes work which again is part of any trade negotiations and should not generate the myth of a hidden agenda: it’s not the case. TTIP is not about full liberalisation, nor is it about weakening our food standards. Our ambition is to reach a win/win agreement – this means a balanced agreement – generating growth for Europe, including for our agricultural sector which is one of the most dynamic drivers of our exports.

Your American counterpart, Mr Vilsack was in Brussels a few days ago. During his visit, he said he would make sure that an agriculture agreement in TTIP would be based on “sound science”, and accused the EU of imposing “non-scientific barriers”. What room is there for negotiations on these “non-scientific barriers”, ie GMOs, hormone-treated beef etc.? 

This visit was fruitful to set up the framework of the agricultural negotiation after the first exchange of offers. It shows that we are both committed to the TTIP. I have explained how we can make progress pragmatically. On consumer protection aspects, the line defined by President Barroso is crystal clear: we do not negotiate our food safety legislation in trade talks. In Europe, our citizens are rightly sensitive on these issues. Everybody still has in mind the dioxin, mad-cow disease, and many crises we faced in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since then we have a simple rule: agriculture and food safety are two different issues with two different Commissioners. Food safety is not part of the agriculture package – it is simply impossible to make any connections. This is a guarantee for our citizens that their health and protection is not connected to any economic considerations.

The EU has an offensive interest in the area of geographical indications. Is there a risk that, in order to reach an agreement on GIs that would satisfy the Union, the Commission would have to make concessions in other sensitive areas, notably food safety?

I cannot imagine any agreement without a strong chapter on Geographical Indications. This system which protects the added value and the savoir-faire of producers – not only in Europe but in many countries across the world – should not be treated as a secondary issue. It is a central part of the agricultural package. There are no connections with food safety standards. Once again, this kind of link threatens the whole negotiation and its credibility in the eyes of our citizens. This must be crystal clear if we want TTIP to succeed. The GIs negotiation is about making sure that EU and US producers are guaranteed real intellectual property protection when they market their traditional products.