German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt was in Washington for talks ahead of the next round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. He tells DW about the biggest hurdles.
DW: Negotiations over the TTIP are ongoing, with the next round of talks scheduled for February. How do you rate the negotiation process so far?
Schmidt: I'm returning from Washington with greater optimism than when I came. A new momentum is noticeable. This has been confirmed in the conversations I've had with US Trade Representative Michael Froman and US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
What are the biggest hurdles from your standpoint?
The biggest hurdles are in the agricultural sector, the infamous "chlorine chicken," for example. It has to do with the question: How do we achieve food safety? There's a different philosophy in the US than in Germany. We focus on the process, which will always be respected so that the product doesn't posess any health risks at any time. That's why we think our way is better, and we don't want to deviate from it.
The second is genetically modified organisms, which we're hardly going to be able to sell to consumers in Germany. Consumers want clarity. They must be able to know: Is this food genetically modified or not? Some rapprochement in understanding can be achieved over this. We have put in place a two-step regulatory system in the European Union that could serve as a good basis.
Lower standards of consumer protection - will that be allowed?
No, that will not happen. This has also been made very clear. Yes, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the American view of European standards is quite positive, with even a touch of respect.
How do you see the timeline? Can we expect that TTIP negotiations will come to a conclusion in 2015?
I would be very happy if that were to take place. We have a window of opportunity that won't be open forever. Elections and other priorities will come up. And as a result, my wish would be: Hang in there, work hard at it and arrive at solutions - preferably during the 2015 calendar year. By the time Christmas trees are being set up in late 2015, we should be ready to place TTIP on the table as one of the Christmas presents.