EU, U.S. Push for Trans-Atlantic Trade Deal Before End of 2016

U.S. and European Union negotiators pressed ahead with efforts to get the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership done by the end of 2016, weeks after the White House suggested the deal might not be possible before President Barack Obama leaves office.

“If we can sustain our current intensified engagement, we can finish the negotiations this year,” U.S. trade negotiator Dan Mullaney told reporters in Brussels on Friday after a week of talks.

Mullaney and Ignacio Garcia Bercero, his EU counterpart, said both sides want to work toward a consolidated draft text by July so that only the toughest issues will remain open. Mullaney said this means a deal could “potentially” get done in the second half of 2016, while cautioning that substance will take precedence over the calendar.

Since starting the trade talks in 2013, the U.S. and the EU have held 12 rounds of negotiations aimed at cutting red tape, eliminating tariffs and jump starting investment between the two markets. On Feb. 8, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “I do not believe that we’re going to reach a TTIP agreement before the president leaves office,” adding that Obama still supports the deal and wants to move it forward.

This week’s round of talks included new offers on regulation as well as the first discussions on the EU’s most recent investor-protection proposals, which have drawn intense public scrutiny. Both negotiators said there are no plans to strip the issue out of the trans-Atlantic trade talks.

“We believe it is very important that investors have guarantees at an international level for protection,” Bercero said.

Mullaney said the TTIP talks will also affect global standards on how to encourage investment while ensuring regulators can act in the public interest as needed. “It is very important to give the international investors the assurances that their investment will be protected against expropriation, against discrimination,” he said.

The current negotiating round will stretch into a second week as the U.S. and EU exchange government procurement offers, and two more trade rounds are slated between now and July. Talks so far have covered tariffs, car safety, sanitary standards, and industrial sectors including chemicals, cosmetics, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and textiles.

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