Europe fires starting gun for EU-US trade talks

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The European Commission recommended yesterday (12 March) that EU member states authorise the launch of negotiations for a transatlantic trade and investment agreement.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said in a statement that the EU executive had agreed a draft negotiating mandate for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

"Today we've made important progress on what I believe is a game changer,” he noted.

According to a study published on Tuesday (12 March), an ambitious trade and investment agreement could bring significant economic gains for the EU – €119 billion a year – and the US – €95 billion a year. This would translate into an extra €545 in disposable income each year for a family of four in the EU, on average, and €655 per family in the US.

80% of the gains can come from reducing regulatory burdens and bureaucracy, said Barroso, adding that the agreement would go well beyond tariffs to cover services and public procurements.

The report said that EU exports would increase in almost all sectors, including processed foods, by 9%, chemicals, by 9%, and manufactured goods, by 6%.

“It's an agreement of a new type that I believe can be of extreme importance for Europe, for the United States and for global trade," added Barroso.

The EU's 27 trade ministers are now expected to give the Commission a mandate so that talks can start this summer.

“The decision by the Commission to ask the Council for a negotiating mandate to start trade talks with the US is a significant step on the road to a new EU-US Trade and Investment Partnership. I can now start working on securing an agreement in the Council for these talks to start, ” said Richard Bruton TD, Irish minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, who currently chairs the Trade Council of Ministers.

Obama: EU more open to trade deal than ever

In Washington, President Barack Obama said that the EU was more open to a trade agreement than ever before, as the economies of Europe struggled to grow without the expansion of free trade.

"What I think has changed is the recognition, throughout Europe, that it is hard for them to figure out a recipe for growth at this point, in part because of the austerity measures that have been put in place throughout the eurozone in the absence of a more aggressive trade component.

"So I think they are hungrier for a deal than they have been in the past," Obama said at the White House during the President’s Export Council.

The US president added that forging new trade deals with Europe and 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region would form an important part of his second-term agenda to spur economic growth and create jobs.

In February, US President Barack Obama, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy announced they were each starting the internal procedures necessary to launch negotiations on a much-awaited trade agreement.

>>Read: EU, US clear way for game-changing trade deal

The negotiations will be based on the work of the EU-US High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth co-chaired by Commissioner Karel De Gucht and United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Two-way goods trade between the US and the EU now totals more than $600 billion (€447 billion), annually. Services trade, including sales by majority-owned U.S. or EU companies in each other's market, adds about $1.2 billion (€920 million).

American companies have invested around €1.4 trillion in production, distribution and other operations in the EU, far more than in China or anywhere else in the world. EU companies have invested about €1.2 trillion in the US.

Since most tariffs between the US and the EU are already low, reducing regulatory barriers to trade in areas like agriculture and chemicals is expected to be the most challenging aspect of the talks.

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