US reignites trade battle with EU over beef imports

By Louis Gore-Langton

- Last updated on GMT

Obama administration threatening sanctions against EU over beef ban ©iStock
Obama administration threatening sanctions against EU over beef ban ©iStock

Related tags Eu European union World trade organization International trade

US trade representatives have heeded calls from the country’s meat industry to act on ‘unfair and discriminatory’ rules on US beef imports to the EU – threatening to reopen a 20 year dispute and put sanctions on European products.

Speaking last month, US trade ambassador Michael Froman announced the Obama administration would begin discussing possible measures against EU imports in retaliation for the continued ban on hormone-treated US beef.

"The EU has failed to live up to assurances to address this issue, and it's now time to take action. Today's action holds the EU accountable and is an important step in encouraging the Commission to come back to the table to ensure that American ranchers have access to Europe's market and that European consumers have better access to high-quality US beef"​ said Froman.

The decision comes two decades after the EU levied a ban on specific hormone growth promotants (HGPs) marking the start of a still unresolved trade dispute.

The European Commission has maintained the ban is based on food safety, pointing to evidence​ showing some hormones can be cancerous.  

However, the US claimed this is a guise for furthering Europe’s economic interests.

Adrian Smith, chair of the modern agriculture caucus, said: “The EU, our largest trading partner, unfortunately maintains numerous unscientific policies focused on protecting European agriculture producers from competition with American producers rather than promoting food safety. It also closes off many more markets to US producers in countries around the world which defer to the EU on these regulatory issues.”

Sanctions on Europe

While the threat of sanctions comes as a result of disputes in the meat industry, there is no guarantee that the meat industry itself would be hit as a result.

Michael Gore, CEO of the Belgian Federation of Meat Products, told FoodNavigator that any area of the EU food industry could be hit as a result.

“When I was in the pork industry all our Belgian sites were suspended. Two years later we got to know the real reason… it was because of issues on the trade of bananas. If there is a trade issue on one product, I do believe there could be an impact on any European commodity.”


Hopes that the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) would include a final settlement to the dispute have now fallen through.

Since the agreement has not been finalised, the US beef industry is demanding immediate action to what it sees as ongoing sabotage of the decisions laid down by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1998.

The WTO investigated the EU ban and found it to be in breach of trading obligations due to a lack of scientific evidence showing the hormones are actually dangerous. The EU appealed the decision, and claims it now abides by the most recent agreements. 

The decision comes shortly after China lifted its own ban on US beef which had been in place since 2003. 

The US beef industry supports almost 50,000 jobs and generates roughly US$7.6bn (€7.12bn) in economic activity each year.

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