Aiming to spur support for a major trade deal between the United States and the European Union, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is currently abroad visiting with European officials. If consummated, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), under negotiation since July 2013, would be the largest free-trade area in the world.

Most observers expect T-TIP negotiations to run into 2015.

Following a meeting with EU officials, Vilsack spoke about T-TIP progress and hindrances during a Monday (June 16) press call.

“We just concluded a working lunch with 28 agricultural ministers, commissioners and representatives from the EU states and countries. It was an opportunity for frank discussion. It was important, I think, for me to express … my belief that we have much in common in terms of agriculture, that our farmers are faced with the same concerns and opportunities and European farmers…

“One of the things we have in common is the importance of market opportunity that allows producers to profit from agricultural production. The importance of having diversity of opportunity -- not only in local and regional food systems but also in the ability to export -- is extraordinarily important.”

Vilsack then hit on the main reason for his trip. “The key to export opportunities are free and fair trade agreements. … I wanted to emphasize in the meeting … the necessity that agriculture be a significant part of whatever the trade discussions and negotiations ultimately end up being with reference to T-TIP. I was very candid with my colleagues that absent a real commitment … to agriculture in this trade agreement it would very difficult for Congress to get the votes to pass T-TIP.”

What must be tackled in the negotiations? Among the issues, according to Vilsack: tariffs, non-tariff barriers, sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues, cloning, regulatory simplification and pathogen reduction treatments. “All are serious issues that require thought and a willingness to figure creative solutions.”