United States Pressing for Trans-Atlantic Trade Deal

United States Congress

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. trade negotiator said the European Union’s struggles to keep a Belgian regional parliament from scuttling a free trade deal with Canada this week is a “cautionary note” that raises questions about the EU’s ability to complete a trade deal with the United States.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday that he is still analysing the addendum secured by Wallonia’s parliament to the Canadian trade deal after opposing it for several days.

He said Washington was still pressing ahead with negotiations on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“It’s a cautionary note,” Froman said of the opposition from lawmakers in Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade agreement (CETA).

The episode ended on Friday with Wallonia’s parliament voting in favour of Belgium signing the deal after securing an addendum that addresses concerns about an investor-state dispute mechanism and protections for local agriculture. Final ratification by the 28 EU member states is still required.

The change means the court-like dispute resolution system now may not come into force for a period of time and must be separately ratified by EU states.

Supporters say the CETA could increase Canadian-EU trade by 20 percent and reduce Canada’s export reliance on the United States.

TTIP negotiations have made progress on technical and regulatory issues, but have yet to bridge wide gulfs on agriculture, trade in services and access to government procurement. Both TTIP and CETA have become targets of anti-globalization protests in Europe.

Froman said the episode in Belgium had called into question the strength of the EU’s negotiating mandate.

“However CETA gets resolved – and it seems to be getting resolved – it has been an important development that has already had broad consequences,” Froman said. “The EU’s trading partners and every major commentator I’ve seen across Europe have raised questions about whether the EU has the mandate and a clear process for agreements that it seeks to negotiate.”

Nonetheless, he said the United States and the EU would continue to work towards reaching an agreement before President Barack Obama’s presidency ends in January.

“We’re still talking to them about what we can do that delivers benefits in the medium term, in the near term, for our respective populations,” Froman said. “We’re continuing to engage with them. There will be meetings again next week, the week after, on the outstanding issues.”

However, Wallonia’s socialist premier, Paul Magnette, said on Friday that TTIP “is dead and buried,” echoing statements from some other European government officials.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)