The secretary was then queried on recent EU actions to allow member states to make individual decisions regarding biotechnology rather than present a collective front. Vilsack’s answer demonstrated the difficulty biotechnology could present to the trade deal.

“We didn’t specifically discuss the opt-out (biotechnology) provision recently enacted. We talked in more general terms about the importance of, from our perspective, understanding diversity and the need for coexistence among various production processes. … There are obviously strong feelings about the issue here in Europe. We haven’t taken a specific position on the opt-out provision but I’d say at the end of the day it’s always going to be about what science tells us.”

Another hurdle to overcome in a trade deal is the EU “Geographical Indicators (GI)” designation. Such designations lock down certain words -- “feta” cheese, for example -- to certain EU regions and processes and prevent those manufacturing the cheese outside those areas from marketing their product as “feta.”

Vilsack compared GI to the U.S. trademark system. Trademarks, he said, “basically provide protection for those creating an identity or brand.” GI, on the other hand, “seeks to exclude the use of what have been treated, up to this point, as generic terms. I think there’s no question there will have to be serious negotiation about this. … We’re not accepting of the notion that (the EU) could unilaterally impose a restriction on a generic term. I tried to suggest we ought to be able to find a way to protect value without limiting market access.”

Vilsack said, if “done right” both EU and U.S. agriculture will benefit from a trade agreement. But he didn’t downplay the naysayer sniping that is inevitable. Negotiators must not allow “folks who criticize without knowing what the end result will be” to derail talks. Leaders mustn’t allow trade deal opponents “to define the agreement before it’s crafted. That’s a communication challenge and (at the lunch) we talked a good deal about that.

“There needs to be some level of educating the general public and policy makers about what this is all about without revealing the details that would disclose negotiation strategy or decisions.

“At the same time (we mustn’t) create a void that is solely filled by those who mischaracterize or jump to the conclusion that the agreement would do something harmful. It’s tricky and very hard.”