Froman Says EU Trade Talks Won’t Be Hurt by Asia Deal

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said his negotiators can work toward trade pacts with the European Union and Asian nations without hurting either deal’s prospects.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Froman told reporters in Brussels today, when asked whether talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership take away from a parallel trans-Atlantic trade deal.

Froman and European officials said they wanted a “fresh start” on a possible trade accord after meetings today in Brussels. Froman and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem are set to meet again on Dec. 9 in Washington, with the next formal round of talks set for Brussels in February.

EU officials have sought confirmation that the U.S. is serious about the European talks amid the Asian negotiations, which are farther along, and preparations for the 2016 American presidential elections.

“I don’t know are the Americans interested in doing a deal -- at the moment they’re more interested in the Asia-Pacific region,” EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, who also met with Froman today, told reporters earlier this week.

The proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and the EU is intended to strengthen economic and political ties while also reducing regulatory barriers. Froman said the deal would improve consumer conditions and make it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to find new customers.

‘Clear Signal’

“We’re looking for a clear signal that the EU is similarly focused on achieving an ambitious and comprehensive agreement and doing so as soon as possible,” the U.S. trade chief said. He said the talks are “very much of both economic importance and strategic importance at a time with a lot of geopolitical uncertainty around the world, including on the periphery of Europe.”

EU trade ministers meeting in Brussels today also affirmed their interest in finding a strong deal that doesn’t sacrifice existing safeguards.

“A deep, ambitious, balanced and mutually beneficial TTIP agreement with the United States” can play a role in boosting growth and jobs, ministers said in the meeting’s conclusions. “This will help boost job creation and economic growth by enhancing trade and investment between the two sides of the Atlantic, while ensuring our right to regulate and maintaining a high level of standards.”

At this month’s Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, President Barack Obama and his EU counterparts released a joint pledge to press ahead on TTIP, and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called for “rocket boosters” on the negotiation process. That has provided “a window of opportunity” for the trade talks to make progress, Malmstroem said today.

“We should do our utmost to have a quick but a good deal,” she said.

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