22nd Sep 2019

EU urges US to 'step up' on free trade talks

  • The 12th round of talks between the EU and US on TTIP is due to take place in Brussels from next Monday to Friday. (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The United States needs to “step up to the plate” in the forthcoming round of talks on an EU-US trade agreement and accept that the deal should be “comprehensive and balanced”, the European Commission has said.

“We've had a very difficult and frustrating time in the last year, in order to get some movement from the United States to acknowledge the fact that we need to do a comprehensive agreement and a balanced agreement, not just on agriculture but across areas like procurement and regulatory issues and non-tariff barriers,” said agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan at a press conference in Brussels on Monday (15 February).

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  • Agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan (l) tried to reassure agriculture ministers he would be taking a “very strong position on agricultural matters”. (Photo: European Commission)

Hogan is involved in the negotiations for the agriculture part of the treaty and on Monday informed EU farming ministers about the state of play.

Some ministers raised TTIP during a debate on a European platform to exchange best practices on animal welfare.

“Several member states expressed concerns with a view to ongoing trade negotiations, fearing that lower animal welfare standards outside the EU might give producers from third countries competitive advantages and thus harm the level playing field,” said Dutch agriculture minister Martijn van Dam, who chaired the meeting.

But Hogan tried to reassure ministers he would be taking a “very strong position on agricultural matters”.

“As I set out today, we would not agree to a 'TTIP-lite' agreement, which would be just market access and trade regulation issues,” the Irish politician added.

“Therefore it's a matter now in the next round of negotiations in the near future for the United States to step up to the plate, to acknowledge that we have to make some serious moves in the short space of time or otherwise it will confirm what the White House spokesman said.”

A week earlier, White House spokesperson had John Earnest said he did not believe a TTIP deal would be reached “before the president leaves office”. Following elections this November, Barack Obama will leave office in January 2017.

Earnest added that Obama was “certainly interested in moving those negotiations forward and in a direction where we can be confident that the economy of the United States will be enhanced through the completion of an agreement hopefully under the leadership of the next US president”.

Hogan said on Monday that Earnest “may have let the cat out of the bag in terms of the ambition of the American negotiators”.

He said the US was struggling to get approval from Congress for another trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). As a result, there could be less urgency to close a deal with Europe.

The TPP, with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, was signed earlier this month. However, the speaker of the US House of Representatives said last week it did not have enough votes to be passed through Congress.

The 12th round of talks between the EU and US on TTIP is due to take place in Brussels from next Monday to Friday.

Meanwhile, Hogan said the commission would carry out a study to assess “the accumulative effect” of previous free trade agreements. It will be presented in six months.

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