EU looks beyond Obama for free trade agreement
A LAST-GASP push to seal a landmark free trade deal between the European Union and the United States before the end of Barack Obama’s presidency has failed, EU ministers agree.
“It is not realistic to reach the final agreement by the end of the Obama administration,” said Peter Ziga, the trade minister of Slovakia which currently holds the EU’s sixmonth rotating presidency.
The decision puts the fate of the accord on the US side in the hands of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, who are both running their presidential campaigns on antitrade deal platforms.
The highly ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would create the world’s biggest market of 850 million consumers stretching from Hawaii to Lithuania.
But with talks dragging on since 2013, opposition has grown, most dangerously in key member states France and Germany amid fears that TTIP will undermine European standards on health and the environment.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, who leads the talks with the US, said it takes five or six months for a new US administration to be fully in place and that affectively puts the talks on hold.
“When we can restart is a bit too early to speculate until we know what the administration would look like,” she said after EU trade ministers met in the Slovak capital.
The ministers met hoping to patch up deep differences after tens of thousands of demonstrators thronged European cities in recent days demanding the EU walk away from the deal.
“From our point of view, the [TTIP] talks are effectively suspended because meaningful negotiations are no longer taking place,” said Reinhold Mitterlehner, the economy minister from Austria where opposition to the deal is fierce.
Critics complain that the US side has failed to offer any serious proposals, especially on sensitive issues such as protecting geographical labelling for renowned farm products such as Champagne or Roquefort cheese.