US and EU wrap up third round of free-trade talks

AFP and Reuters, WASHINGTON and BEIJING

Sun, Dec 22, 2013 - Page 13

The US and the EU on Friday ended a third round of talks to create the world’s largest free-trade area to boost growth and jobs in their huge economies.

US and EU trade officials wrapped up five days of negotiations in Washington, where the talks began in July, to hammer out the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an ambitious agreement to expand trade, investment and regulatory cooperation.

The two economies combined make up 40 percent of output in the world economy.

“I think we can be very satisfied by the end of this third round of talks,” EU chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said in a statement.

“We remain on track to deliver an ambitious trade and investment deal which will boost our economies, deliver growth and, more importantly, create jobs for both Europeans and Americans at a time when they’re most needed,” he said.

Negotiators made progress on the three core parts of the TTIP — market access, regulatory aspects and rules — and these will be the focus for the round of talks expected in March, the EU said.

Garcia Bercero said that the fourth round of negotiations would take place in Brussels, with dates to be announced soon.

“TTIP is not and will not be a deregulation agenda,” Garcia Bercero said.

He said neither side intended to lower its high standards of consumer, environment, health, labor or data protection, or limit its autonomy in setting regulations.

The EU estimates a TTIP deal would bring annual benefits of 119 billion euros (US$163 billion) for the bloc’s 28 member states and 500 million people, and only slightly less for the US.

US and EU leaders have set their sights on completing an agreement by late next year.

Separately, talks on a trade pact between a dozen countries around the Pacific Rim are to take whatever time they need as the deal has to be both ambitious and comprehensive, US trade representative Michael Froman said yesterday.

The US-backed deal, which Washington had wanted to conclude this year, aims to establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile and Japan, encompassing about 800 million people and almost 40 percent of the global economy.

However, differences over farm tariffs between the US and Japan have proved to be one of the major roadblocks and it will now not be finalized this year.