Thursday

9th Jul 2020

Governments to give green light for US trade talks

Governments are expected to agree on an EU mandate to open negotiations on an ambitious bilateral trade deal with the United States at the next meeting of EU trade ministers.

The decision, which is expected on 14 June, would pave the way for the European Commission's trade team, led by Commissioner Karel de Gucht, to begin talks in July.

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A diplomatic official involved in the negotiations described himself as "reasonably confident" that ministers would reach agreement.

However, countries bring different views to the table on the scope of the mandate.

Speaking with this website, UK government sources described the trans-atlantic talks as "a once in a generation opportunity," adding that the UK is keen to put "all sectors on the table at the start of negotiations."

"A mandate that is as broad as we can possibly get is the best way to proceed," the contact said.

Other countries are more wary.

France has insisted that the defence and cultural sectors be excluded. Trade minister Nicole Bricq stated earlier this month that Paris would veto any deal which did not respect these red lines.

But other highly sensitive topics including energy, intellectual property rights and genetically modified organisms, are all set to be part of the mandate.

The commission estimates that an EU-US trade deal going beyond conventional tariff barriers and harmonising standards on goods and services would be worth €100 billion per year, equivalent to an additional 0.5 percent of EU GDP.

Failure to go beyond tariffs would see the economic benefits reduced to under €25 billion, according to the EU executive.

Although EU officials are also trying to agree trade deals with Canada, Japan, India and southern Asia, the prospect of sealing a trade treaty with the US is widely regarded as the jewel in the crown.

De Gucht has set an ambitious 2014 deadline for concluding an agreement. However, the EU's track-record points to a negotiating process lasting up to three years.

Between them, the EU and US account for around 50 percent of world GDP and 30 percent of global trade.

Meanwhile, MEPs in Strasbourg also offered strong endorsement of the talks.

A report drafted by Portuguese centre-left deputy Vital Moreira asserted that the talks had "the potential to lead to a win-win situation" for businesses and consumers. It was was adopted by 460 votes to 105 on Thursday (23 May).

But there were dissenting voices over whether certain economic sectors should be taken off the table.

Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, spokesperson for the Liberal group on transatlantic trade, warned that "prematurely excluding certain sectors from the negotiations will lead the Americans to do the same."

Still, a majority of MEPs asked that cultural and audiovisual services, including online ones, be excluded from the mandate.

The parliament report is not legally binding and MEPs will not be involved in the negotiations.

However, the parliament must give its consent before any international treaty negotiated by the commission can be adopted.

After suffering a bruising experience over its handling of the controversial anti-counterfeit treaty Acta, which culminated in MEPs vetoing the deal in July 2012, the commission has promised to debrief deputies on the trade committee before and after each round of talks.

In a thinly veiled reference to the Acta travails during a debate on Wednesday (22 May), Moreira warned that "parliament has teeth and can bite."

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