US in final drive to secure EU trade deal

Posted on September 12, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 07: Campaigners against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) inflate a 'Trojan Horse' outside the European Commission at Smith Square on on October 7, 2015 in London, England. A Europe-wide petition demanding an end to TTIP has reached over 3,000,000 signatures today with over 500,000 of signatories coming from the UK. TTIP is a controversial free trade deal between the European Union and the United States that promises multilateral economic growth. Critics of the trade agreement that it threatens EU food and environmental safety laws as well as the sovereignty of national governments which could be sued for damages by foreign investors wide ranging government actions that they can claim have threatened their profits. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)©Getty

Campaigners against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership outside the European Commission in London

The Obama administration is launching a final push to salvage negotiations on a trans-Atlantic free trade zone before it leaves office — despite growing political opposition in Europe.

While Washington has been working on compromises to give new life to the talks, the US’s top negotiator acknowledged that the prospects of success were hit by factors such as Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

    In an interview, Mike Froman, US trade representative, said Washington remained committed to concluding the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership this year. He insisted the talks, launched in July 2013, continued to make progress, despite a series of sceptical comments by European ministers.

    “The clear message we are getting from [EU] member states is that, notwithstanding these [recent] comments there is a clear desire to keep moving forward,” he said. “And the closer you are to negotiations the more confident you are that in fact negotiations are moving forward.”

    US officials have spent the summer drafting a proposed package of compromises that will be at the centre of discussions between Mr Froman and his EU counterpart, Cecilia Malmstrom, in Brussels on Thursday.

    Although European leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel have in recent days expressed support for the negotiations, senior ministers in both France and Germany have  called for the talks to be suspended.

    Such comments — together with mounting anti-trade rhetoric in the US presidential campaign — have raised big doubts over whether any deal can be concluded before President Barack Obama leaves office in January and what future any talks would have after that. 

    In a sign of the difficult path TTIP faces, Mr Froman also questioned whether the European Commission, which has been leading the negotiations with the US, could make the hard decisions needed to conclude a deal.  “We’re saying: ‘Ok, we’re ready to go’,” he said. “We’re ready to get in that end game, create these packages, these meaningful packages of outcomes. Are you?” 

    Among the additional challenges, he said, was a ruling earlier this year that a deal struck by the EU with Canada would have to be ratified by parliaments in all 28 EU member states, which would complicate all future European trade negotiations.

    While the Obama administration had secured congressional authority to negotiate deals and subject them to a simple up or down vote in Congress, “Europe has gone completely the other way by making their decision making process all the more cumbersome and uncertain,” Mr Froman said. “And that has the risk of affecting whether people want to negotiate with them.” 

    The June decision by British voters to leave the EU had raised other questions about TTIP, Mr Froman said.  

    We have single French contracts for government procurement in the US that are bigger than our entire access to the French government procurement market

    – Mike Froman, US trade representative

    Washington has long seen Britain as a pro-market ally in the negotiations. It also is a leadingr US export destination, representing a quarter of all trade with the EU and as much as 50 per cent in sectors such as financial services, Mr Froman said. As such “[Brexit] has a meaningful impact on TTIP,” he said.  

    Mr Froman rejected recent criticism by France’s trade minister, Matthias Fekl, who called for the talks to be suspended unless the US did more to open its market to European companies.

    “We have single French contracts for government procurement in the US that are bigger than our entire access to the French government procurement market,” the US official said. 

    But with France facing volatile elections next year in which nationalist Marine Le Pen is campaigning against TTIP and Germans also due to go to the polls in 2017, Mr Froman also acknowledged that “trade is politically challenging everywhere”.  

    While opposition to TTIP has been muted in the US, the opposition of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to a separate Pacific Rim deal has cast a shadow over Mr Obama’s hopes to secure congressional approval for the transatlantic pact later this year. 

    “I think it’s hard to imagine a more pro-trade US administration than this one in terms of moving these agreements forward,” Mr Froman said. “There’s clearly a window of opportunity here where you have a president who is willing to commit political capital to get this thing done. What happens after this year is really uncertain.”  

    You must be logged in to post a comment Login