U.S., EU Sign Beef Deal

More U.S. hormone-free beef headed to Europe.

It's official, the U.S. has agreed to drop plans to impose additional retaliatory duties against the European Union's ban on beef fed with hormones in return for duty-free access for hormone-free U.S. beef. The deal was signed Wednesday. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk notes the EU is one of the few markets to ban beef from cattle given growth-promoting hormones, despite the fact it's perfectly safe to eat. However he said the agreement is seen as a pragmatic way forward.

The EU will provide duty-free access to 20,000 metric tons of hormone-free beef from the U.S. for each of the next three years. That's reportedly in addition to an existing quota for 11,500 tons for U.S. beef that carries a 20% tariff. The U.S. can maintain existing duties related to the EU's failure to comply with the World Trade Organization ruling against its hormone-fed beef ban.

In the fourth year of the agreement the duty-free quota can be increased to 45,000 tons for one year. In return for which the U.S. has agreed to drop all duties related to the WTO case. After that year the EU and U.S. can return to the table to discuss the possibility of continuing the agreement.

For the time being, both sides have agreed not to take further action in the WTO dispute for the next 18 months. Either party can request a WTO dispute panel after that time, but the findings wouldn't be issued until the end of the fourth year of the agreement.

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