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Principal EU-US trade disputes

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An interesting paper which outlines trade disputes between the EU and the US

The prospect of transatlantic free trade talks has brought the EU-US trade relationship, the largest bilateral trading relationship in the world, into the spotlight. Trade disputes account for a small fraction of the total volume of this trade, around 2% according to the Commission, despite often receiving prominent media coverage. But a number of long-running disputes between the EU and the US are indicative of the challenges negotiators of a bilateral trade agreement face.

Read more at:

UK Beef Embargo

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Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is a disease that affects adult cattle and is commonly known as mad-cow Disease.

BSE attacks the brain and central nervous system of the animal and eventually causes death. It was first reported in cattle in the UK in 1986, but could have existed for longer without being detected. One theory about why BSE developed is that an older prion disease that affects sheep, called scrapie, may have mutated.

The prion was spread through cattle that were fed meat-and-bone mix containing traces of infected brains or spinal cords. The prion then ended up in processed meat products, such as beef burgers, and entered the human food chain. BSE is believed to be the cause of variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a fatal disease, in humans.

Because of the extent of the disease in cattle in the UK, the EU imposed a strict export ban in March 1996 on British beef and related products.

From 1st August 1999, the ban was amended to allow de-boned beef and beef products from the UK produced under the Date-based Export Scheme (DBES) to be exported. Under the DBES, the UK could export beef and products from cattle born after 1 August 1996, subject to a series of strict and limited conditions. These included requirements that the animal was between 6 and 30 months old, had been clearly traced and identified throughout its lifetime, its mother did not develop BSE, and that beef from cattle older than 9 months was de-boned.

Dispute between the UK and France

The French Government, however, continued to ban the import of beef and beef products from the UK.

In January 2000, the commission brought an action against France before the Court of Justice. In December 2001, the ban was ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice. The judges agreed with commission lawyers that no national law could justify a refusal to apply community law. France’s decision to maintain the embargo sparked a trade row, with British farmers threatening tit-for-tat bans on French goods.

The deadline for France to lift its ban on beef imports from Britain ran out at midnight on Thursday 11 July 2002, and the country faced the threat of fines by the European Commission.

On 25 October 2002 the French Government formally lifted its ban (in order to avoid any fines).

The Commission  withdrew its scheduled action in the ECJ on 13 November 2002 asking the Court to impose a penalty of £100,000 per day on France for failure to lift its ban in accordance with an earlier ECJ Judgment. It stated that it was satisfied that compliance with EU law had been achieved.

No fines were imposed and due to the European constitution, were not able to be backdated because they cannot be imposed retrospectively.

The Commission also stated that the action for costs against France would remain live and that following the case the Commission would review the provision under Article 228 of the treaty with a view to ensuring more effective mechanisms for applying sanctions to Member States who failed to obey EU law.

The UK Government regretted the decision by the European Commission not to pursue the case for penalties against France. The UK supported the Commission throughout and believed that pressing this case would have sent a firm message to Member States that no one country can avoid its obligations and responsibilities. Working through EU institutions was the best way to resolve this difficult issue, and it was thanks to the direct action by the Commission and the ECJ that the French Government lifted its illegal ban on British beef.

In 2006, the EU agreed to lift the embargo completely and the UK was allowed to resume exports of all live animals born after 1 August 1996.


BSE: UK beef embargo to be lifted

Europe’s BSE crisis

British beef: Commission satisfied that EU law is now respected

EU fine re British Beef

BSE: Lifting restrictions on the trade of cattle and beef from the UK

The Beef Hormone dispute

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Cattle are given growth hormones in order to promote faster growth.

In order to protect consumer health and safety, the EU has banned imports of hormone treated meat and only allows restricted imports of meat that is certified as produced without the use of hormones.

This has caused a dispute with the US, known as the Beef Hormone Dispute, that has been ongoing since 1989, and is still on-going. The dispute has resulted in the imposition of tariffs on a number of products exported from EU countries to the US.

Read on for more details about the dispute.

EU Trade with non-EU countries (2015)

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The EU trades with most countries in the world and this is worth a total of 3,513,929 Million Euro (3.5 Trillion), based on figures for 2015.

The following breakdown shows the value of the trade between the EU non-EU countries. It does not include the figures for internal trade between the 28 EU countries.

The top 10 trading partners accounted for 62.96% of the total EU trade.

2 of the top 10 countries that the EU trades with are Norway and Switzerland with a total value of € 376 Billion or 10.7% of the total trade

Total EU Trade Table

Figure 1 – Total EU Trade with non-EU countries (table)

Total EU Trade Chart

Figure 2 – Total Trade with non-EU countries (chart)

Exploring these figures further shows that Imports to the EU from non-EU countries totalled 1,724,867 Million Euro (1.7 Trillion Euro). The top 10 trading partners accounted for 66.23% of the total and goods totalling € 176 Billion Euro, or 10.24% of the total goods imported came from Norway and Switzerland.

EU Imports Table

Figure 3 – Total Imports to the EU from non-EU countries (table)

EU Imports Chart

Figure 4 – Total Imports to the EU from non-EU countries (chart)

Exports from the EU to non-EU countries totalled €1,789,063 Million Euro (€1.8 Trillion Euro). The top 10 trading partners accounted for 66.23% of the total and goods totalling almost €200 Billion Euro, or 11.16% of the total were exported to Norway and Switzerland

EU Exports Table

Figure 5 – Total Exports from the EU to non-EU countries (table)

EU Exports Chart

Figure 6 – Total Exports from the EU to non-EU countries (chart)






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The creation of a single European economic area based on a Common Market was a fundamental objective of the Treaty of Rome.

Today, the EU is the largest economy in the world. It is the worlds biggest exporter of manufactured goods and has the worlds largest single market area of more than 500 million consumers.

The EU is responsible for the trade policy of its member countries and negotiates trade agreements, based on World Trade Organisation rules, on their behalf. This means that no individual member government can negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with a non-EU partner.

UK/EU Trading Feb 2016

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The UK has strong trading links with countries in the EU. This makes the EU an important market for the UK and also makes the UK an important market for the EU.

I’ve used the latest Overseas Trade Statistics from February 2016 as a snapshot to understand the UKs trading position with the EU. These statistics show that the UK is a net importer of goods from the EU.

In February 2016, the UK exported goods to the EU worth £11.2bn and imported goods from the EU worth £19.4bn .

Overall, in February 2016, trade with Europe accounts for 46% of exports from the UK and 55% of the imports to the UK.

What is also apparent is that UK Trade exports are almost evenly split between the EU (46%) and non-EU countries (54%)

These monthly figures are within the ranges recorded over the last 18 months where the proportion of exports from the UK to the EU has been within the range from 38% to 48% and that of imports from the EU to the UK within the range from 51% to 55%

source: https://www.uktradeinfo.com a website managed by the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) Trade Statistics unit

Overseas Trade Statistics

According to recent (provisional) figures from UKTradeInfo , a website managed by HM Revenue & Customs, the value of exports from the UK in February 2016 was £24.1 billion with imports of £35.2 billion resulting in the UK being a net importer of goods to the value of £11.1 billion.


These figures can be split between EU and non-EU countries

non-EU exports £12.9 billion
non-EU imports £15.8 billion

which indicates the UK to be a net importer of goods from non-EU countries with imports exceeding exports by £2.9 billion

EU exports £11.2 billion
EU imports £19.4 billion

which indicates the UK to be a net importer of goods from the EU with imports exceeding exports by £8.2 billion

The figures also show that in February 2016, the proportion of exports to the EU was %46 (54% non-EU), with imports of 55% (45% non-EU).

Other figures from the HM Revenue and Customs web-site indicate that over the last 18 months the proportion of exports to the EU has been within the range from 38% to 48% and that of imports within the range from 51% to 55%

Top 5 Partners trading with the UK (Feb 2016)
Exports from the UK
  1. USA £3.5bn
  2. Germany £2.8bn
  3. France £1.5bn
  4. Netherlands £1.3bn
  5. Republic of Ireland £1.3bn
Imports to the UK
  1. Germany £5.3bn
  2. China £2.9bn
  3. USA £2.9bn
  4. Netherlands £2.9bn
  5. France £2.3bn

A summary of the UK Overseas Trade Statistic (OTS) for Febrary 2016 is available at


There also breakdowns of the actual goods being imported and exported available from the page