As the United States and the European Union discuss a sweeping free trade agreement, it’s important that farmers get together and develop a clear understanding of agriculture issues on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Iowa Farm Bureau members said after a recent visit to Germany.

The Iowa Farm Bureau members traveled with other Farm Bureau members from Wisconsin and Illinois to Germany recently to learn about Germany’s dairy industry. The tour was part of a two-year series of roundtable discussions and delegation trips between the United States and Germany in an effort to help advance the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The trip was organized by the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest.

"With the trade agreement pending we wanted to get a little better understanding of their issues with trade and also their concern," said Joe Heinrich, vice president of the Iowa Farm Bureau and a dairy farmer from Maquoketa. "We wanted to build a dialogue, between their government and farmer-to-farmer."

Sticking points

Despite the progress that’s been made in advancing TTIP, there continues to be several sticking points in the agreement that slow TTIP implementation, Farm Bureau members said.

One of those concerns is geographic indicators, Heinrich said.

"We have trademarks here, but over there they really think they should have protection on some of the other geographic names, like Gouda, Feta and Parmesan," he said. "It’s hard to know what all they want to protect and that is going to be an issue. Farmers there have some concern, but it’s really a bigger deal with the government agencies."

GMO differences

Another big issue is genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), Heinrich said.

"The public’s perception of the technology is not good," Heinrich said. "They are importing a lot of our GMO soybeans already that are going into feed products, and people don’t seem to have an issue with that. But as far as growing them over, there they have a huge issue. That is a big issue that we will work with."

Consumers in Germany and in the European Union (EU) are also extremely concerned about phytosanitary procedures, said Stephanie Dykshorn (pictured above), a dairy farmer in Ireton and president of the Sioux County Farm Bureau.

EU consumers have an issue over what they call "chlorine chicken." It’s a process approved in the United States to kill potential bacteria in chicken processing.

Understanding the difference and similarities between U.S. farmers and farmers in Germany is essential in understanding how policies might affect farmers, Dykshorn said.

"Meeting farmers, trade negotiators, researchers and political leaders in Germany gave us a first-hand view of what’s going on and how it affects farmers there," Dykshorn said. "As a grassroots organization, it’s important for us as Farm Bureau members to see what their farmers are dealing with so we can help lead policies here."

A global perspective

Trips like these help put global trade deals into perspective, Dykshorn said. "You hear about the world market so much, but we really saw it in action. We heard about their milk prices and their struggles that echo our own milk prices, and our own struggles. Even though they’re halfway around the world, we have more similarities than we do differences," Dykshorn said.

The information exchange between the U.S. group and those in Germany is helpful, Heinrich said.

"It showed us first-hand the issues we are dealing with in the TTIP deal. If we (Farm Bureau) can start working with groups over there to get a better understanding, it will help us work though the issues. It’s a partnership that’s important," he said.