EU doubts trade deal with US will happen this year

Thousands of people demonstrate against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in the centre of Brussels © Eric Vidal
The European Commission has indicated it is unlikely negotiations over a controversial trade deal with the United States will be completed during the current US administration, Reuters reported citing Commission sources.

According to the source speaking on condition of anonymity, the Commission wants to preserve the interim status reached in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks. That would allow the EU to continue negotiating with the next US administration instead of starting from scratch.

US ambassador to Germany, John B. Emerson said this week the sides were close to overcoming their differences on many sticking points and that President Obama would make a final push for a deal after the US election on November 8.

Last month, France and Austria demanded TTIP negotiations be suspended until a new president takes over in the White House. That will give time for member states to rethink the trade treaty and explain it better to the public, they said.

Talks could be restarted with greater transparency, clearer goals and under a different name, Austrian Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner said.

Finnish Trade Minister Kai Mykkanen said renaming the deal could solve the negative publicity it garnered over the years. Public resistance has been growing and large demonstrations have been seen across Europe.

An EU-US free trade treaty project was proposed three years ago and has been criticized for its secretiveness and lack of accountability.

TTIP aims to promote trade and multilateral economic growth by creating the world’s largest free trade zone. Backers say it will help small businesses by opening up markets and making customs processes easier, while trade tariffs on products would be reduced.

But critics of TTIP fear big corporations will be the only ones to profit from the deal, with corporate interests coming ahead of national interest. Concerns have been raised about an introduction of a secret corporate court system, empowering big business to sue states for policies that threaten their profits.

Opponents say TTIP and a similar deal with Canada known as CETA are less about trade, and more about handing power to big businesses. They add the proposed deals represent a huge threat to public services and food standards in Europe.