EU ambassador: Nebraska would gain from trade deal

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Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 12:00 am

Economic pressure on President Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders can lead to a peaceful, positive solution to the crisis in Ukraine, the European Union's ambassador to the United States said Wednesday.

Recent events in Ukraine underscore why it's important for Europe and the United States to combine their economic strength, said Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida, who was in Nebraska to discuss a proposed trade agreement that would span the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition, he told The World-Herald in an interview, “It is a good deal for the people of Nebraska.”

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known as T-TIP, would enhance the economic leadership of the United States and Europe, Vale de Almeida said.

Even so, approval of the agreement is not assured, and during ongoing negotiations it has been controversial in the United States and in Europe on such matters as genetically modified food, hormone-treated beef and consumer protections.

Vale de Almeida, 57, was born in Lisbon, Portugal, and is a former journalist. He said the European Union's economic strength is a key ingredient in the dispute over Ukraine. Its people want to move toward Western-style democracy and economic progress while preserving the rights of Ukraine's Russian-speaking minority.

“People in Ukraine aspire to a different life and see the European Union as a way to get there,” he said. “We cannot let them down. We remain a source of inspiration and of hope.”

Ukraine's interest in joining the European Union triggered Russia's effort to take control of the Crimean Peninsula, a region of Ukraine with many pro-Russian citizens. Vale de Almeida said the Crimea already has considerable autonomy and hosts Russian naval bases but should remain part of Ukraine.

Russia's actions bear “a whiff of the Cold War,” he said, and smack of the outdated “sphere of influence” philosophy that the Soviet Union maintained until its collapse 22 years ago.

The crisis shows that the struggle continues for the ideals of democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and other important values, he said. “This is not yet over in many parts of the world, and it is not yet over in Europe.”

The European Union is taking steps to support Ukraine's government and is prepared to impose further sanctions unless Russia agrees to respect Ukraine's borders, he said. That would include freezing Russian-owned assets and restricting travel by Russian officials.

Another step might be ending European purchases of Russian natural gas, Vale de Almeida said, which would be a hardship for Europe but also would harm Russia. “The Russian economy is not that powerful,” he said.

Instead of both sides losing, he said, the European Union hopes to show that a stable, secure and prosperous Ukraine, with all of its present territory included, would benefit Russia and the rest of Europe. “Neighbors need to learn to live together.”

He argued that the proposed U.S.-EU trade agreement would strengthen the voice of the United States and the EU countries in the future of the global economy.

Vale de Almeida met Wednesday with Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman to discuss the trade agreement and other issues. He also spoke at a dinner meeting Tuesday of the Omaha World Affairs Council at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

He is acquainted with former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel and lectured in Hagel's classroom at Georgetown University before Hagel became secretary of defense.

Vale de Almeida said agriculture in Nebraska and Iowa would benefit from the trade agreement. For example, the European Union allows 45,000 tons of non-hormone beef imports per year from the United States. Quotas and tariffs could be removed under the trade agreement.

At the same time, Europeans don't want meat from livestock that have been treated with hormones, a viewpoint that Vale de Almeida said must be respected. U.S. farmers and ranchers could increase their sales by boosting their non-hormone livestock production, he said.

As details of the trade agreement are being negotiated, opposition groups in Europe are becoming more active. A provision accepting genetically modified U.S. corn won approval from the EU Parliament recently but only after heated protests from some officials.

Although total jobs may increase on both sides of the Atlantic, some jobs likely would be displaced in the process and some regions and occupations may lose jobs.

At the same time, the United States is negotiating terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a similar trade agreement that would include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Canada, Mexico and Peru. That proposal has raised concerns in the U.S. about consumer protection and food safety.

Vale de Almeida said he believes the T-TIP negotiations will yield an agreement that both sides can accept and that will benefit all the signers in the long run. The agreement will preserve differences between the United States and the European Union where necessary, he said.

For example, the European Union has a science-based process for accepting products with genetically modified food ingredients and has approved 52 such products while rejecting some others. Vale de Almeida said the approval process makes sense and meets Europeans' desire to avoid health risks by testing.

While some trade standards are determined by the European Union, each member nation retains some regulatory power, such as controlling what types of crop seeds are planted, he said. “It's a sensitive area.”

But many other types of trade would be freed from barriers that restrict sales today. If the differences can be hammered out, he said, the proposal may be submitted to the U.S. Congress and the European Union's parliament and member states next year for approval.

The final approval process likely would open the door for more opposition, including debate over cultural differences, job losses, food safety standards and consumer protection.

Backers of the trade agreement, including the Atlantic Council, estimate the agreement would boost sales to European countries by 26 percent in Nebraska and 27 percent in Iowa, creating 4,970 jobs in Nebraska and 7,560 in Iowa.

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Sales to EU nations (millions) Nebraska Iowa
Grain $150.70 $235.70
Meat $135.90 NA
Machinery $119.30 $758.70
Pharmaceuticals $118.10 NA
Aerospace NA $170.90
Services $936.00 $1,100.00
Other $417.00 $1,034.70
Total $1,877 $3,300

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Projected job gains from T-TIP Nebraska Iowa
Business services 848 846
Machinery 190 940
Financial services 119 209
Metal products 63 235
Other 3,750 5,340
Total 4,970 7,570

Source: Bertelsmann Foundation for the Atlantic Council

NA=not available

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