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EU-US trade deal talks in danger of stalling, says president of BusinessEurope

Out-Law News | 01 May 2014 | 5:28 pm | 2 min. read

Negotiations on a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the US are in danger of stalling unless the US demonstrates greater commitment, the president of Europe's largest business lobby has told the Financial Times.

Emma Marcegaglia, president of BusinessEurope, said that American negotiators are proving more reluctant to shift on their positions in talks on the Transatlantic Trade Investment partnership (TTIP) than the European contingent, according to the newspaper.

Marcegaglia made her comments on a  visit to Washington where she is due to meet with Dan Mullaney, the chief US negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as well as Ken Hyatt, a senior US commerce department official, Michael Froman, the US trade representative, and Caroline Atkinson, the national security adviser on international economic issues.

“The message we are bringing is that we need to see real progress, real contents. The risk is that in Europe the negative opinion will prevail,” Marcegaglia, who is also the new chairman of Italy's state-owned oil company, Eni, told the newspaper. “What we see is everyone sticking to their positions – the Americans more than the Europeans."

“The moment is difficult on both sides . . . we want to bring a positive narrative,” Marcegaglia said. “We are ready to do our part but we need to see more commitment.”

The EU and the US launched negotiations on the TTIP in July last year, partly in response to "the continuing economic crisis and the stalling of the multilateral trade negotiations in the World Trade Organisation" according to the European Commission. According to the Commission, the US is currently the EU's number one export market, and an EU-US trade agreement would cut business costs and generate enough growth to boost the EU economy by up to €119 billion annually. Both governments want to make it easier for their companies to invest in each other's economies, the Commission said.

A fifth round of talks is due to take place in Arlington, Virginia, later this month, when economic sectors including energy, government procurement, raw materials, telecommunications and electronic commerce will be on the agenda.

According to the Financial Times, Marcegaglia has found "underwhelming" both the American administration's initial offer on remaining tariffs imposed on EU goods and its efforts to prevent discrimination against EU companies in public procurement. She has also expressed concern at US unwillingness to include provisions on financial services regulation.

Marcegaglia also said that the US has proved reluctant to designate the EU as a preferential recipient of natural gas and crude oil exports, despite recent tensions between the international community and Russia due to its conduct in the Ukraine, which Marcegaglia said has reinforced the strategic importance of a transatlantic trade deal, the Financial Times reported.

“The attitude has not been of great commitment,” she told the newspaper.

A spokesman for the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) said: “Both sides are committed to conclude expeditiously a comprehensive and ambitious agreement. We continue to make progress in all areas of the negotiations and look forward to hosting the fifth round, which is scheduled for the week of May 19.”

According to the newspaper, the US also has concerns about Europe's stance, including indications during the last round of talks in January that it may back away from a pledge to slash all tariffs on agricultural goods and replace some tariffs with a form of quotas.