By Martin Banks - 8th November 2012
The omens are good
Karel De Gucht
EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht has voiced optimism that negotiations for a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and the United States could start soon.
Speaking this week, De Gucht said, "The omens are good to start negotiations at the beginning of next year."
His comments come after parliament recently cleared the way for the EU executive to open negotiations with the United States - the EU's most important trading partner - to move towards a transatlantic FTA.
Parliament formally adopted a report setting out its position on future EU-US trade negotiations.
After concluding a successful trade deal with South Korea last year, the EU is now looking at the United States and Japan.
There are fears, though, that unless a deal is struck, EU countries will increasingly push for bilateral and regional trade agreements with the US.
MEPs say the EU-US gross domestic product could be boosted by €163bn by 2018 if half the non-tariff barriers were removed.
The EU-US trade volume was €700bn in 2011 and bilateral investment approached €2.4 trillion.
ECR deputy Martin Callanan says the re-election this week of US president Barack Obama presents an "ideal" opportunity to start FTA talks between the two sides.
He said, "The transatlantic alliance is a significant force for peace, prosperity and security across the world.
"It needs constant effort to maintain and strengthen. One of the EU's first priorities must be to open formal negotiations towards a transatlantic trade deal, and it must be prepared to go that extra mile to get agreement."
Portuguese centre-left MEP Vital Moreira, chair of the international trade committee, warns though that the EU’s interests must be protected, especially in the farm sector.
"Agreement is not going to be easy and there are very divergent interests between the US and Europe over, for example, agriculture, maritime transport, GMOs and cloned animals, but we believe that these difficulties can be overcome," said Moreira.
The Greens have also voiced reservations, with its trade spokesperson in parliament, Yannik Jadot, saying, "The report adopted by parliament recently represents an unrealistic approach to a future EU-US trade agreement.
"There are real concerns about the precedent an EU-US free trade agreement could set, notably for the multilateral trade system.
"It is unrealistic that the necessary regulatory convergences required for an FTA could be achieved, given the various layers of regulatory decision-making in the US.
"The Greens also have concerns about the very diverse definitions of 'public services' in eventual service liberalisation negotiations, as well concerns with the questions of food imports, GMOs and climate change policy.
"We should not simply sweep these fundamental disagreements under the table to facilitate easier negotiations," said the French deputy.
She said it was for this reason that the Greens voted against the report, saying parliament had "glossed over very real concerns".