EU and US to cut trade barriers, agree on biofuels

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Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen will today (9 November) lead a high-level delegation to the United States for talks on eliminating remaining regulatory obstacles hampering trade and investment between the two economic giants. The two sides hope to strike a deal on a number of key issues, including common standards for biofuels trading. 

The Transatlantic Economic Council – an initiative unveiled last April by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President George Bush to reinvigorate EU-US economic relations by establishing a veritable ‘transatlantic single market’ – will meet for the first time on 9 November 2007, in Washington DC. 

The Council’s task is to iron out the differences in European and American laws in areas such as financial-market regulation, patents and intellectual property law, and to harmonise standards in important industries such as the automotive industry and pharmaceuticals (EURACTIV 7/05/07). 

It is hoped that the removal of restrictive regulations in these areas could add as much as 3.5% to both EU and US GDP – a much-needed boost, at a time when global trade talks are stagnating and China and India are emerging as the economic superpowers of the future (EURACTIV 5/01/07). 

The first meeting will focus on: 

  • Defining common technical standards for bio-ethanol and biodiesel – an accord likely to focus mainly on opening up the European market for jatropha, an inedible plant with oil-rich seeds grown in arid areas and considered by some as one of the world’s most suitable biofuel crops. Last week, US Ambassador to the EU Boyden Gray criticised the EU for tilting the market in favour of German-produced rapeseed oil, but EU biodiesel producers are also unhappy with “unfair” US government subsidies which they say are causing US biodiesel to be dumped on EU markets, threatening to put European producers out of business (EURACTIV 17/10/07); 
  • agreeing on simplified approval procedures for so-called ‘orphan drugs’ necessary for the treatment of rare diseases, and; 
  • making progress on achieving mutual recognition of accounting standards for businesses. 

Larger trade battles, such as the dispute currently being fought out in the World Trade Organisation over aircraft subsidies to Airbus and Boeing, will not be discussed at this point, said Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, who will chair the Council jointly with the American Economic Council Director Allan Hubbard. 

On the European side, they will be joined by Portuguese Minister for Economy and Trade Manuel Pinho and four other Commissioners in charge of the internal market (Charlie McCreevy), trade (Peter Mandelson), consumer protection (Meglena Kuneva) and taxation (Laszlo Kovács). 

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