The European Commission said on Friday that it had struck a deal with the US that will guarantee American farmers a greater share of the quota that restricts beef imports into the EU.
The move is likely to end a decades-long dispute about beef imports — one that involved tetchy exchanges between leaders and the US taking the EU to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1996.
In recent years, the US has complained that other countries were benefitting far more from the 45,000-tonne hormone-free beef quota, which was agreed in 2009 as an interim solution to the row.
Under the deal, which the EU referred to as an “agreement in principle,” the US will now be allocated 35,000 tonnes of that quota. The increase will be phased in over seven years.
“With this step, the European Union reaffirms its commitment to bring about a new phase in the relationship with the United States, in line with the agreement reached between presidents Juncker and Trump in July 2018,” said EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan in a statement.
Though that White House meeting with Juncker, the president of the European Commission, did not concern the beef dispute, it resulted in a marked deescalation in a conflict that threatened to spiral into an all-out trade war.
In 1989, the EU banned imports of beef that contained growth hormones, which are relatively widely used in the US beef industry.
Hogan noted that the new deal will not change “the overall volume, quality or safety of the beef imported into the EU.”
The WTO ruled in 1998 that the EU’s ban violated the organisation’s obligations and was not based on scientific evidence.
But the bloc has long disputed that ruling, and one of its scientific committees found in 2002 that the use of hormones was a potential health risk to consumers.
Following the failure of the proposed EU-US trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the US in 2016 stepped up its rhetoric on the beef war and threatened to impose tariffs on the bloc.
Australia, Uruguay, and Argentina, whose sizeable beef exports to the EU have forced the US share of the quota down to around 30%, stand to lose out from the deal.
But they agreed to the changes — most likely because the EU is currently in the midst of trade negotiations with Australia and the Mercosur group of countries, which includes both Argentina and Uruguay.
Both trade deals are expected to increase the volume of beef shipments that these countries can ship to the EU.