End near for U.S.-E.U. chicken flap?
Lifting a European ban could help pave the way to resolving other recent trade disputes.
After years of sniping over cosmetics, clementines, and biofuel, an unlikely ambassador has emerged in the transatlantic trade wars between the United States and Europe: the barrel-chested American chicken.Skip to next paragraph
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A new European effort to lift an 11-year-old European Union ban on US poultry may become the first major victory of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), which was created last year to put political pressure on grudge-holding bureaucrats on both sides of the pond. Loosening restrictions on the lowly clucker, experts say, could help ease a number of recent trade flaps, which overall could result in as much as 3.5 percent GDP growth for both blocs, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. On Wednesday, the European Commission is expected to hear a proposal by its health chief to open Europe back up to American chicken farmers.
But from the massive poultry farms of Georgia to the charcuteries of France, the chicken-ban issue is not just about agricultural protectionism in Europe, but also about culinary animosity between the Yanks and especially the French. It pits plumped-up US "factory chicken" against the subsidized range-feeding practices that go into growing the arguably skinnier, and arguably tastier, European bird.
"There's no way any citizen of France is sitting there going, 'I wish I had American chicken,' " says Tim Young, who raises chickens the French way on his farm in Elberton, Ga. "Our chicken is not that good."
It wasn't taste, however, that turned the Europeans off from US poultry in 1997. At issue was the US method of safeguarding chicken from bacteria: a diluted chlorine wash that has been used in US production since 1980. The ban was part of a European resistance toward genetically altered and chemically treated food.
Cutting through local passions over food and how it's handled is a tough first-rounder for the TEC. In fact, 20 of the EU's 27 member countries showed serious reservations about accepting the US poultry production model during a bloc meeting of agriculture ministers last week. "The Americans can do what they like, but we will do what we want," French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier told Reuters.
If EU member countries can be persuaded to lift the ban, however, it could resolve long-standing disputes over everything from lipstick to biodiesel, experts say.
"TEC is supposed to promote transatlantic economic integration, remove unnecessary impediments to trade, and – to the extent possible – align our regulatory processes to avoid unnecessary friction," says Daniel Price, assistant to the president for international affairs and the US co-chair of the TEC. "A successful resolution of this issue is an important test of TEC's ability to deliver real results for the transatlantic economy."