WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2015 - U.S. and European negotiators say they’re accelerating their trade talks to wrap up an agreement before President Obama leaves office. “To do that we have to use our time with maximum efficiency,” and it means the next four months will be especially critical, said Dan Mullaney, the chief U.S. negotiator for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP).
But his European Union counterpart, Ignacio Garcia-Bercer, who was in Miami for the latest and 11th round of the talks, made clear that the EU is willing to go into the next administration, suggesting that the Europeans may use Obama’s eagerness for a deal as leverage.
“We hope very much that it will be possible to conclude these negotiations with the current U.S. administration. This being said, if more time is needed we are quite convinced that there will be continuity in the negotiating process,” Garcia-Bercer said. “Many times it has been the case in the past that negotiations have started with one administration and are concluded by a different one.”
Mullaney’s boss, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, speaking Tuesday morning at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said he hopes that the recently completed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks “will spur on acceleration of our work on T-TIP.”
“We have two completely separate teams that work on these agreements,” Froman said, “but I think having completed TPP hopefully will give greater momentum to these negotiations, and we think it’s very possible to do that even as we seek approval of TPP in Congress.”
It’s not clear what impact the presidential race could have on the U.S.-EU talks in part because they’ve been overshadowed by the completion of the TPP negotiations, which involve some low-income countries such as Vietnam that many see as a threat to U.S. interests.
So far, the U.S.-EU negotiations have been significantly more controversial in Europe than they are here, partly because of concerns that the EU will weaken its food-safety restrictions on genetically engineered products.
In the U.S., the Republican and Democratic presidential frontrunners both oppose TPP. Donald Trump has been especially critical of U.S. trade policy, going so far as to threaten to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Still unresolved in the T-TIP talks is the issue of geographical indications and the EU’s insistence on protecting the use of names such as feta and parmesan. The U.S. dairy industry has been alarmed as the Europeans have pursued bilateral trade deals with other countries that restrict the import of U.S. products with the EU-protected nomenclature. “We are approaching the issue of geographic indications through the lens of promoting the ability of our agricultural producers to sell in various markets around the world,” Mullaney said at a recent briefing.
Jaime Castaneda, who leads trade policy for the National Milk Producers Federation, said the GI dispute is likely to be one of the last issues settled, "but at the same time some very clear lines have been drawn.”
Meanwhile, the text of the TPP agreement should be public within days. The administration says the release was delayed because of the Canadian election and the need for the incoming Liberal government to review it.
President Obama brought a group of pro-trade Democratic lawmakers to the White House last week to talk strategy, and on Thursday Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with farm-state lawmakers to answer questions about the deal.
Rep. Ron Kind, who was at both meetings, said the goal is still to get the agreement through Congress by next spring. If that doesn’t happen, the votes could easily slide until a lame-duck session after the presidential election because the campaign will overshadow everything in Washington starting in the summer.
“No one whispered the word ‘lame duck’ (in the White House meeting), but the political reality is that you don’t want this going too deep in the summer of 2016, and being up right before the fall election because the politics gets dicey on this issue, as it has in the past, on both sides,” the Wisconsin Democrat said.
“The goal is still to get this considered and up for a vote early next year.”
Froman said USTR is currently focused on getting TPP text to the public, but he remains hopeful that Congress will support the agreement.
“I will say up front that it is not a perfect agreement,” he said. “But I think when people dig into the details and learn about what’s in there . . . I’m confident we’ll have bipartisan support ultimately for its approval.”
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