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COPA favors TTIP on ‘level playing field’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jerry Hagstrom interviewed Martin Merrild, chairman of the E.U.-wide coalition of farm groups known as COPA, when Merrild visited Washington recently.

On a trip to Brussels, Hagstrom interviewed Daniel Rosario, the spokesman for European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, along with COPA staff and a wide range of western diplomats who offered their views on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as long as they would not be identified.

“We are for trade, but it must be on a level playing field,” Martin Merrild, a Danish farm leader who is the president of COPA, the broad coalition of farm groups in the European Union member countries, told The Hagstrom Report recently when he visited Washington.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is likely to hear that message when he meets with COPA leaders this week in Brussels.

Martin Merrild
Martin Merrild
“From a Danish perspective, we have always been traders,” Merrild said, adding that by some standards Denmark, which is known worldwide for fine pork products, exports a higher percentage of its agricultural production than any other country in the world.

Other countries in Europe need to export more, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could open markets, he said.

“We can’t rely on taxpayer subsidies. The world is moving more toward trade,” Merrild said, but he added that the subsidies European farmers receive are justifiable because the farms are smaller and European farmers are expected to maintain the environment in a way that satisfies non-farmers.

“We are not competitive in many ways with the United States,” Merrild said. “You can’t change the structures. This explains why we should have E.U. subsidies.”

Europe needs more markets in light of the Russian ban on European products in reaction to U.S. and European actions on other issues. But European farmers were sending 30 percent of their exports to Russia and they also deserve assistance during the Russian ban because they are paying the price for the decisions made by the United States and European leaders, he said.

(The European Union has recently announced a package to help the European farmers and also to feed refugees.)

Merrild said Danish farmers have adapted to the restrictions on the use of antibiotics in meat animals to which American producers are reacting negatively.

Denmark has been “very restrictive on antibiotics for many years,” he said, and it has long been against the law to administer antibiotics without consulting a veterinarian, he said. Now farmers can get antibiotics only from a pharmacist and every use over a certain level has to be reported to the government.

“Producers have accepted this and maintained production and exports,” he said.

COPA, he said, “is not afraid of GMOs” and opposes the proposed European policy to allow member countries to ban genetically modified organisms because it marks a departure from a unified European agricultural policy.

“Everything that moves away from the CAP [the Common Agricultural Policy] is bad. We should try to maintain it,” he said.

Geographical indicators, the system of giving products from certain areas the exclusive right to use the name of the place in the product name, is not a Danish issue, he said, but as the leader of COPA Merrild said he must recognize its importance in other European countries.

He said it is “quite natural” that producers of cheese and other items want to control how their products are presented in the marketplace.

“No one wants to protect cheddar cheese,” he said. “We are talking about a smaller group of products.”

Danish_farmers_briefing
A group of young Danish farmers met with Jerry Hagstrom (right center, orange tie) in Washington last month.

In an interview, Merrild said that on his farm in western Jutland, a peninsula about 350 kilometers from Copenhagen, he raises 2,200 breeding mink and 600,000 broiler chickens as well as crops.

The son of a farmer, Merrild received a diploma in economics and specialized in business studies and farmed for short periods in England, Germany and the province of Alberta in Canada before buying a 140 hectare “empty farm with no livestock” in 1982.

A member of the Liberal Party, Merrild has served as mayor of Struer. After long periods of activism in various farm organizations, he was elected president of the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, an umbrella organization of the entire Danish agriculture sector, in 2012 and chairman of COPA in 2015.

When Merrild visited Washington he was accompanied by 19 young Danish farmers who had also visited U.S. farming operations.

While Merrild believes TTIP would lead to increased European exports, it was clear that some of those farmers are worried about American imports.

After a visit to a big hog operation in the Midwest, one Danish farmer told The Hagstrom Report he worries that in light of the troubles in the Chinese economy, U.S. hog producers will want to use TTIP to shift their exports to the United States.

U.S. hog production facilities are so big that those exports could overwhelm European markets and put small Danish farms out of business, the young farmer said.