French President François Hollande said yesterday (12 February) “speed is of the essence” for a European Union-US trade deal and that the accord would strengthen economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
"As soon as principles have been set, as soon as mandates have been given, speed is not a problem, it's of the essence," Hollande told a joint news conference with President Barack Obama at the White House.
"We have everything to gain from going quickly. Otherwise, we know there would be a pileup of fears, of threats, of anxiety," Hollande said. "So, if we are in good faith, if we are all respectful of the other party's position, if we are attached to growth, we can move quickly."
However, quick movement on trade issues is in doubt in the United States amid resistance from members of the president's Democratic Party to a bill deemed crucial for getting Congress to pass trade deals.
That measure, Trade Promotion Authority, puts legislation implementing any trade deal on a legislative fast track. Without it, US negotiators would be hamstrung in their efforts to try to reach an EU-US trade deal or any of the other trade accords in the works.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said now is not the right moment to move forward on the measure, a comment that called into question the possibility of concluding trade agreements this year, despite Obama's call in his State of the Union speech last month for expanding trade to accelerate economic growth.
The US-EU deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is controversial on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, labour groups worry it will promote an exodus of jobs as employers seek cheaper labour or looser standards abroad. In Europe, there are fears the deal could dilute consumer protections.
With a US congressional election looming in November, many lawmakers, especially Democrats, fear a vote to approve trade expansion would make them vulnerable at the polls because it could make them seem indifferent to job losses.
Obama on Tuesday again pledged to pursue the accord and thanked Hollande for his commitment to it. The US president said small and medium-sized businesses would in particular benefit from the deal, which would lower tariffs and other barriers to the flow of goods and services between the two economic zones.
"If we can open up trade opportunities for them, because they can't – they don't have a lot of lawyers, they don't have a lot of accountants, they can't move locations and open up new plants in different places; if we expand trade opportunities for them, that can mean jobs and growth in France, it can mean jobs and growth here in the United States," he said.
During a recent debate in the French Senate, all political parties harshly criticised TTIP, but the French government defended the potential deal [more].
Negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) started in July.
If successful, the deal would cover more than 40% of global GDP and account for large shares of world trade and foreign direct investment. The EU-US trade relationship is already the biggest in the world. Traded goods and services are worth €2 billion.
TTIP would be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated, resulting in millions of euros of savings for companies and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. It is claimed that average European households would gain an extra €545 annually, and that Europe's economy would be boosted by around 0.5% of GDP, if such a deal was fully implemented.
Brussels and Washington have set the ambitious goal of completing negotiations by the end of 2014.