Sen. Baucus: U.S.-EU deal must tackle agricultural barriers

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The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on Monday warned he will not support a proposed free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union unless it tears down barriers that have long blocked U.S. farm exports.

"As chairman of the committee overseeing U.S. trade, I will support a deal only if it gives America's producers the opportunity to compete in the world's biggest market," Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), said, writing in the Financial Times.

With the U.S.-EU trade talks expected to begin by June, Baucus also urged President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat, to replace outgoing U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk with an experienced leader who has "proved mastery of the details of trade negotiations."

Obama announced plans to negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union last month in his annual State of the Union speech, following more than a year of preliminary talks between the two sides.

The proposed "Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact" would be the biggest trade deal since the World Trade Organization was founded 20 years ago, so "it must be treated as a top priority for the U.S. administration and Congress," Baucus said.

Baucus, like many lawmakers from farm states, long has been frustrated by European restrictions on agriculltural practices approved in the United States, such as the planting of genetically modified crops and the use of the feed additive ractopamine to produce leaner beef, pork and turkey meat.

"I heard that there is some interest on the European side in pursuing a limited agreement that would set aside tough issues in order to conclude a quick deal on the easier ones. That is a recipe for failure," Baucus said.

"Any bilateral trade and investment agreement must be comprehensive and address the full range of barriers to U.S. goods and services if it is to receive broad, bipartisan congressional support," he said.

Baucus said the Finance Committee would meet in coming days "to discuss how we can work together to accelerate" the U.S.-EU talks.

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