Talks between the U.S. and European Union will be more difficult in the coming months as both sides sort out regulatory differences for a deal they are seeking to complete this year, the EU’s top trade negotiator said.
“If we want to finish on the now-proverbial single tank of gas, our message to our negotiators now is that we need to step up a gear,” EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in remarks prepared for a speech today in Washington.
De Gucht and U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman wrapped up two days of meetings in Washington to assess progress on the trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, which began in July. Froman also is set to speak on the subject. A U.S.-EU accord would unite the world’s largest economic blocs, creating a free trade area that has about $33 trillion in annual economic output.
Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, and companies including FedEx Corp. (FDX), Ford Motor Co. (F), Fiat SpA (F) and AP Moeller-Maersk A/S (MAERSKB) say the deal will help boost economic growth. Labor unions and consumer groups have said it could weaken existing regulatory standards.
De Gucht said that the parties identified issues on which they can agree, including a desire to ease trade for small and medium-sized companies, to uphold labor protections and to protect the environment.
They have also marked topics that need more work, such as establishing greater market access, setting rules to relax cross-border paperwork and reducing regulatory barriers, which De Gucht said would be the most difficult part of future talks.
“The marked-out areas are still larger than the common ground,” he said. “But we now have a clear picture of the whole field.”
Negotiatiors initially set the end of 2014 to reach an agreement. In recent months they have said that while they want to move quickly, it’s more important to get the agreement right.
The two sides are seeking to bridge differences on issues including financial regulation, agriculture subsidies and country-of-origin labeling.
De Gucht said he and Froman still believe the talks are “on track.” The next round of talks takes place in Brussels the week of March 10.
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