MIAMI: Negotiators for a huge trans-Atlantic free trade pact said over the weekend they were aiming to conclude a deal next year, after making “substantial progress” this week at talks in Miami.
Week-long discussions in the Florida city led by US negotiator Dan Mullaney and the European Union’s Ignacio Garcia-Bercero advanced on the huge number of tariffs to be eliminated under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which if completed will be the world’s largest free-trade area.
They also narrowed some differences on how to remove bureaucratic barriers to trade and investment and harmonize regulations, a sensitive issue amid worries especially in Europe that consumer protections will be watered down in any deal.
Garcia-Bercero told reporters that there was “strong political will” on both sides of the Atlantic to reaching a deal on TTIP relatively quickly, more than two years after negotiations opened.
The 11th round of negotiations “was about translating this political will into concrete steps forward. This round achieved exactly that,” he told reporters.
Mullaney pointed out that the round came just weeks after the United States concluded a similarly ambitious trade and investment pact with 11 Pacific Rim nations including Japan, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“The conclusion of the TPP negotiations shows just how dedicated the Obama administration is to the goal of promoting shared prosperity by negotiating the reduction of trade and investment barriers around the world,” he said.
“We believe that it is important to try to finish these negotiations during President Obama’s presidency. To do that, we will need to use our time with maximum efficiency.”
With President Barack Obama due to exit the White House in January 2017, the push leaves a tight time-frame to bridge a wide range of issues.
This week’s talks brought the two closer on agreement on the elimination of all tariffs on 97 percent of goods traded between the United States and the EU’s 28 countries.
“During this round we have made substantial progress on market access,” Garcia-Bercero said.
The other three percent represent more sensitive goods, like farm products and genetically modified crops, that will likely only be dealt with in the final stages of the talks.
Even more delicate will be discussions on how health, food and data trade standards will be brought together.
In Europe especially, political resistance to TTIP has arisen due to perceptions that harmonizing standards would mean watering down EU protections.
Garcia-Bercero took pains to stress that that was not going to happen.
“Cooperation is only possible if the level of protection for citizens stays the same or indeed improves,” he said.
Any new cooperation “will not change the way we regulate on public policy such as food safety or data privacy.”
Mullaney stressed that accelerating talks over the next four months was crucial.
But Garcia-Bercero said that, even if a deal cannot be concluded before Obama leaves office, the EU side is “quite convinced” that there will be continuity in negotiations with whoever becomes the next US president.