AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The European Union aims to bring free trade negotiations with the United States towards a close by the summer, a necessary step if a deal is to be clinched before a change of president in the United States.
The two sides are trying to agree on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade deal that could deliver economic benefits of more than $100 billion for both economies, each searching for growth in the face of a Chinese economic slowdown.
After more than two years of talks, both sides say a deal could be clinched this year before Barack Obama’s term as U.S. president ends. Waiting for a new president with different objectives risks severely delaying any deal.
“We have to be approaching the endgame by the summer,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told a news conference at the end of talks between EU trade ministers.
The partners have scheduled rounds of talks in February, April and July, with a view to having a consolidated text on almost all issues, leaving out the most sensitive topics such as agricultural quotas.
In February, the partners will discuss the services sector, opening up public tenders and the European Union’s proposal for a new court to settle disputes between investing companies and states, one of the most controversial parts of a would-be deal.
Investor-state rules aim to protect foreign companies from unfair treatment by host governments and provide compensation if assets are appropriated. The EU’s idea of a new court is designed to answer critics who say the private arbitration system gives multinationals the right to challenge regulations governing the environment or public health.
Malmström also said she would not seek a slimmed down deal, an option some observers and certain EU member states have suggested in case talks became stuck.
“I have no other mandate for a balanced, comprehensive and fair deal with the American counterparts… Everything is intertwined you can’t really take out this part and deal with it later,” she said.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Hugh Lawson)