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End near for U.S.-E.U. chicken flap?

Lifting a European ban could help pave the way to resolving other recent trade disputes.

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The TEC has already addressed divergent accounting standards that had logjammed transatlantic trade for years, says Mr. Price. But that was a mundane debate compared to the chicken conundrum, where European politicians are having to stand up to powerful agricultural interests and continental condescension about American food practices.

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"It used to be thought that it would be easier to get experts to agree on a common solution, but often it's harder to get experts to compromise, because they feel their way of analyzing the problem is the scientifically correct way," says Alberta Sbragia, an EU expert at the University of Pittsburgh. "Europe is now a powerful enough economic actor that they think the way they do things is best – and the US thinks what they do is best."

Yet there is growing pressure for European leaders to override the bloc's regulators and ease up on American farmers, experts say. Ultimately at stake, they add, is Europe's ability to compete against the stalwart American economy as well as the blossoming markets of Asia.

"At the highest political level at the EU – and we'll see whether it's critical mass – there are a number of politicians who recognize that the US and the EU are two of the largest trading blocs in the world. And to have these kinds of issues continue to fester and remain unsolved doesn't seem to be a situation that people at the political level should continue to tolerate," says Bill Roenigk, chief economist at the National Chicken Council in Washington.

This barnyard standoff has dragged on for much longer than most people predicted. But a few new revelations have changed the dynamics. Despite the EU listing chlorine as a carcinogen, two EU studies have found no risk to human health from eating poultry washed with a chlorine solution, according to Mr. Roenigk. And when the Financial Times recently reported that France was using a similar chlorine wash for chicken exports to Saudi Arabia, the EU may have lost a patch of high ground.

If the ban is lifted, the effect on the $2 billion US poultry trade would be modest at first, experts say: Exports of primarily white breast meat to the EU could rise to as high as $180 million per year. American poultry proponents predict that many European consumers, especially those who can't afford the pricier European bird, will buy American chicken breast.

"I still think that the flavor of the chicken has more to do with the chef than the way it is grown or the breed," says Mike Lacy, chair of the poultry science department at the University of Georgia in Athens.

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