US ‘shutdown’ puts transatlantic trade talks on ice

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The US has put negotiations for a landmark free trade deal with the EU on ice because of a partial shutdown of the US government, the Obama administration said on Friday (4 October).

US Trade Representative Michael Froman called European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht to say that US officials could not travel to Brussels next week for talks due to the shutdown, Froman's office, known as the USTR, said in a statement.

Whole swaths of America's federal government have been shut down since Tuesday morning due to an impasse in Congress over funding for the new fiscal year.

"USTR will work with the (European) Commission to craft an alternative work plan that can begin once the US government shutdown ends," the agency said.

Washington and the EU were due to hold a second round of negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would be the world's biggest free-trade deal.

The United States and the EU already are the world's largest trade and investment partners but are struggling with high unemployment, particularly in Europe.

They hope to create new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic by striking a deal to eliminate remaining tariffs on their goods and to reduce regulatory barriers to trade.

Delay will not act as distraction

The US promised to provide De Gucht with further information on when and how further engagement – including negotiation rounds – can be scheduled.

“Let me reiterate the clear commitment of both the EU and the US to the TTIP process,” De Gucht said in a statement.

“The cancellation of [this week’s] negotiation round in Brussels is clearly unfortunate but let me underline that it in no way distracts us from our overall aim of achieving an ambitious trade and investment deal between Europe and the US which will bring real economic benefit to people on both sides of the Atlantic," the commissioner added.

Dutch Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake – who sits on the US delegation in the Parliament – said that the postponement was unfortunate.

“I trust the European Commission and the United States Trade Representative will continue their work via digital means. Hopefully the US side will soon be able to send a full negotiating team to Brussels. We stand ready to continue our work,” Schaake said.

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 an ambitious goal of completing negotiations by the end of 2014.

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