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U.S. trade chief: Beef deal with EU '99 percent there'

GENEVA (AP)--A long-running trade clash between the United States and the European Union over hormone-treated beef is almost resolved and could pave the way for an end to other disputes between the world's two biggest economic powers, the top U.S. trade official said May 11.

The EU in early May agreed to buy more high-value American beef to avoid having classic European products like Italian mineral water and French Roquefort cheese slapped with punitive sanctions by the U.S., which says the World Trade Organization has repeatedly ruled in its favor in the 13-year dispute.

Brussels bars the import of beef from cattle treated with growth hormones, saying it is a health hazard, but Washington says the World Trade Organization has repeatedly ruled there is insufficient evidence for the claim.

"Assuming we get the beef issue finally put to bed, which we're 99 percent there, then we'll look and see if there are other issues that we might be able to address as well," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters on his first visit to the WTO in Geneva.

Kirk said he met his EU counterpart, Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, shortly after his Senate confirmation "and in both of our minds it was somewhat of a tragedy that we spend so much of our time in dispute matters at the WTO."

Washington and Brussels are also locked in a high-profile dispute over alleged trade-distorting subsidies to rival plane makers Boeing Co. and Airbus SA.

Kirk declined to say whether that issue would be raised when he meets Ashton again. During his three-day stay in Geneva, he also meets with WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy and mediators from key trade negotiation groups working to revive the stalled Doha round of commerce liberalization talks, launched in Qatar eight years ago.

Kirk said he had come to listen to others countries' views on world trade.

"The world has given us an opportunity to reset our relationships with a lot of our partners, so this is as much an opportunity for me to hear their perspective as much as to share my own."

The U.S.-EU beef deal would mark a small but significant climbdown for both sides after more than a decade of bitter haggling that repeatedly ended up before the WTO's trade tribunal.

While U.S. beef producers would be the main beneficiaries, producers in the 27-nation EU and their U.S. customers would also benefit from lower tariffs on some luxury exports.

The deal, which still needs to be approved by the U.S. Congress and EU governments, also stipulates that both sides forgo any new legal action at the WTO for at least 18 months and seek a permanent solution to the dispute within four years.

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