EU Presses for Trade Deal During Obama Term

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By Stephen Joyce

March 1 — The European Union is pushing to complete negotiations with the U.S. for a major trade agreement because the current administration favors the deal while the trade position of the U.S. government taking office in 2017 is unknown, a senior EU official said.

“Nobody knows how strong a commitment to a strong trade policy the American side will possess if we don't manage to finalize the negotiations before the presidential elections,” Jyrki Katainen, European Commission vice president for jobs, growth, investment & competitiveness, told Bloomberg BNA.

“Our aim is to finalize negotiations before the presidential elections. If that is not possible, we hope that the new authorities, your government, will be as willing to pay attention to trade policy as the current government has been,” Katainen said March 1 on the sidelines of a speech to the European American Chamber of Commerce New York.

If the two negotiating teams don't complete work before Jan. 20, Katainen said negotiators won't have to start from scratch when a new U.S. administration takes office in part because agreement on many technical standards including in the trade deal have been reached. “We have already achieved quite a lot,” he said of the negotiations, which began in 2013.

While Katainen said he is hopeful the two trading partners complete negotiations in 2016, he also said formal approval of the trade deal could wait until 2017.

Additional Advantages

Katainen said U.S. and European business have more to gain from TTIP approval than favorable tariff arrangements. The agreement, for instance, has provisions that would make it less burdensome for companies to make cross-border investments, he said.

“We are not only talking about tariffs but also regulatory questions. Because sometimes for investors those regulatory issues are more important than tariffs,” Katainen said. “If we have a level playing field across the Atlantic, it's easier for U.S. businesses to invest in Europe or European businesses to invest in the United States. It's a more harmonized market,” he said.

“So it will for sure stimulate growth and job creation,” he said.

During his remarks, Katainen also discussed an EU investment initiative, announced in 2014, aimed at boosting economic growth and job creation in the EU's 28 member states. The initiative envisions spending about $340 billion in public and private money during 2015-2017 and includes the goal of assisting foreign investors to identify investment opportunities within the European Union.

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