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By Bengt Ljung
May 31 — European Union leaders will discuss the trans-Atlantic trade talks at their upcoming summit, but only to reconfirm their support for the talks and not to go back on the negotiating mandate.
European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem told U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman during their meeting May 31 in Stockholm that the EU is pushing ahead with the negotiations.
Over the weekend, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed that EU leaders discuss TTIP at their June 28-29 summit.
“Considering the somewhat unruly debate we've had recently, President Juncker wants the summit to once again reconfirm its support. Six European Councils (EU summits) have done so in the past two years,” Cecilia Malmstroem told Bloomberg BNA after her meeting with Froman.
“It's not about reopening the negotiating mandate, adding or removing things. It's a reconfirmation, and it's about reminding EU member countries that they have responsibilities,” she said.
Malmstroem said while EU leaders and EU trade ministers have unanimously supported TTIP in their meetings in Brussels, they often were quiet or more critical back in their home countries where public opinion frequently was hostile.
Froman welcomed a reaffirmation of the EU commitment to TTIP.
“At a time when we see some disparate points out there, I think it is helpful to ensure that the necessary political will is there, on both sides, to get this done,” he told journalists at a visit to Firefly, a Stockholm high-tech safety company that would benefit from TTIP.
Froman said the U.S. and the EU now have a window of opportunity before President Barack Obama leaves office to conclude the trade deal.
“I won't comment on candidates for future administrations. But we'll have a transition. Next year, Europe will have a number of important elections, in France and in Germany. In 2018, we have midterm elections, in 2019 there's a new European Parliament election, and in 2020 we have a new presidential election,” Froman told Bloomberg BNA.
“We should concentrate our attention and get it done now. The issues don't become any easier with time,” he said.
Joined by their chief negotiators, the EU's Ignacio Garcia Bercero and Dan Mullaney of the U.S., Cecilia Malmstroem and Michael Froman negotiated for almost six hours earlier in the day in Stockholm before participating in a conference on TTIP.
Malmstroem said they worked their way through almost every negotiating chapter during the talks.
“It went well. We've found a few things we think we can solve with only a little more discussion,” she said, declining to spell out which areas.
They also found that some areas need intensified work at a technical level and others need a more flexible political mandate, she said.
Bercero said the meeting “was quite good,” as the parties discussed all dimensions of market access—tariffs, services and public procurement, as well as regulatory issues, particularly standards, and labor and environment.
“We came out of the discussion with a clear sense of the political leadership and how we should try to work hard during the July round to reduce the gaps as much as possible,” he told Bloomberg BNA.
The 13th negotiating round, to be held in July, has been described as a make-or-break session if a deal is to be struck under the Obama administration. But Froman downplayed the importance of this next round.
“Every day is important. There tends to be a lot of focus on the formal rounds, but I would say that the work that goes on between the rounds is equally important,” he said.
He said the U.S. and EU are now in almost constant negotiations at different levels, including chief negotiators, deputies and leaders of working groups. He and Malmstroem have met four times in eight weeks and will see each other later this week and at the end of June, when Malmstroem travels to the U.S.
Both plan to attend the June 1-2 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development meeting in Paris but aren't planning to discuss TTIP there—only World Trade Organization and OECD matters, according to Malmstroem.
Views on how to conduct the negotiations persist, however. Bercero repeated a frequent European complaint that the two parties cannot leave all the difficult issues until the end of the talks.
Froman said in response that sensitive issues by definition have to be left for the end game. “That doesn't mean we shouldn't make progress on them and not clear the underbrush of more sensitive issues,” he said. “We're focused on how we define landing zones for some of the difficult issues.”
On China, Froman said the U.S. is talking with the EU and other partners over whether to grant China market economy status.
To contact the reporter on this story: Bengt Ljung in Stockholm at email@example.com
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