Obama Doing ‘Formidable Job’ on Trade Powers, EU Official Says

U.S.-EU Trade Talks 'Maybe Halfway' Done, Malmstroem Says

U.S. President Barack Obama is working hard to win negotiating powers that will be necessary to strike a trans-Atlantic trade deal, European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said Tuesday.

Obama needs to convince Congress to approve trade promotion authority so he can finish separate talks with the EU and with a group of Asia-Pacific nations, Malmstroem said in a Washington interview. She said U.S.-EU trade talks are “maybe halfway” after nine rounds of negotiations and technical work.

“The president is doing a formidable job to get his people on board and we hope that there can be an agreement soon,” Malmstroem said. “We understand it’s a necessity, yes, so we are waiting for this to happen.”

Obama faces opposition in his quest to gain trade powers and seal the European and Asia-Pacific deals this year. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and U.S. Senate majority leader, said Tuesday he would bring up the trade legislation as soon as the chamber finishes work on a bill to allow congressional review of any nuclear deal with Iran.

The trade authority measure faces a more uncertain fate in the House, where some Republicans and most Democrats are likely to oppose it.

Malmstroem said the EU trade deal may gain momentum if Obama can push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the U.S. and 11 other nations from Japan to Mexico are in the final stages of haggling over. If those talks are concluded successfully, she said, the U.S. administration could “fully concentrate” on talks with Europe.

Sticking Points

The proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now in its second year of deliberations, faces sticking points on issues from energy to government procurement. Malmstroem said agriculture is another thorny topic because each side has a big economic stake in the outcome.

One fight that may not be solved until close to the end of the talks involves geographical indications in food products. The EU is seeking to protect the quality and reputation of products originating from specific regions, such as champagne.

“I think this would be for the endgame,” she said. “I hope that we can sit down and find a particular solution but we’re not there yet.”

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