The European Commission and member states agreed on Friday (23 September) that it is “unlikely” to conclude the negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US before the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.
The ministers of the 28 member states in charge of trade discussed the state of the talks in detail during their informal meeting in Bratislava.
On the eve of the meeting, an EU official told euractiv.com that the discussion should help national governments to decide whether they want to make a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement, or terminate the three-year process.
Capitals lobbying for and against TTIP intensified their campaigns in recent weeks, as demonstrations against the deal took place across Europe.
Brussels and Washington aimed at reaching an agreement before Obama leaves the White House in January 2017.
“It is not realistic to reach the final agreement by the end of the Obama administration,” said Peter Ziga, the trade minister of Slovakia, which currently holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.
Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström, admitted that “it looks increasingly unlikely” an agreement will be reached before the end of Obama’s mandate.
She emphasised that in some areas “important progress” has been made, but many issues remain unsolved.
The next round of talks will take place in New York during the first week of October. Malmström commented that the EU is open for a new round of talks.
TTIP would create the largest single trade block for 850 million customers. But opposition to the deal in Europe has grown, especially in France and Germany, amid fears that it would undermine European standards on health, consumer protection, and the environment.
Malmström told reporters that the executive is “very aware” of citizens’ concerns. For that reason, the Commission is making sure that the agreement respects the “red lines” and safety concerns expressed by Europeans.
But she stressed that in most countries there are no protests, but rather a “general support” for TTIP.
The decision puts the fate of the trade deal on the US side in the hands of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, who are both running their presidential campaigns on anti-trade deal platforms.
Malmström explained that it takes five or six months for a new US government to be fully in place, and that effectively puts the negotiations on hold.
“When we can restart, (that) is a bit too early to speculate until we know what the administration would look like,” she said.