- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2013

Coming out of a successful first week of trade talks in Washington, where U.S. and European officials laid the foundation for a pact that would connect the economies of the Western world, both sides are turning their sights toward the next round of negotiations this fall.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which President Obama first announced during his State of the Union address in February, has U.S. and European leaders whetting their appetites for a free-trade agreement that would spur their struggling economies.

The two sides already have a strong trading relationship, accounting for half the world’s gross domestic product and one-third of its trade, according to the European Commission. U.S. investment in Europe is three times higher than it is in Asia, and European investment in the U.S. is eight times greater than in India and China combined.

According to the Centre for Economic Policy Research, a London-based research network, the proposed trade deal would create millions of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic and generate an estimated economic boost of $123 billion a year in the U.S., and $154 billion a year in the EU.

So it comes as no surprise there is more “political will” than usual among the governments to get the deal done in a timely manner, with some pointing toward late 2014 as the target for completing negotiations.

“I think we’ve demonstrated we are very interested in moving expeditiously,” chief U.S. negotiator Dan Mullaney told reporters Friday. “So we’re going to move quickly, but we’re also going to move carefully.”

Negotiators spent last week laying out the framework for such an agreement. They discussed issues such as market access for agricultural and industrial products, government procurement, investment, regulatory issues, services, intellectual property rights, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, sustainable development, energy and raw materials, dispute settlement, competition and state-owned enterprises.

In Washington, officials were more interested in figuring out each others’ negotiating positions and goals for such an agreement, rather than beginning intense trade talks.

The second round of talks will take place the week of Oct. 7 in Brussels, and negotiators hope to make more progress on the issues then.

EU chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia-Bercero told reporters Friday that the first round was “very productive,” saying the parties “have paved the way for an intense discussion of negotiations.”

Their focus is more on aligning regulatory standards between the two sides, and less on reducing tariffs, which average just 4 percent, which that the Delegation of the European Union to the United States called “already low.”

The “main hurdles” come from regulations and nontariff barriers, according to the delegation. In fact, 80 percent of the economic boosts created from this deal will come from aligning regulatory standards.

But it is not yet clear whether the two sides plan to harmonize their regulations — which is to say they would employ the same exact regulations — or simply accept the lowest common denominator between the two markets.

While in Washington, the two sides also heard from about 350 stakeholders across fields such as academia, trade unions, private sector and nongovernmental organizations.

• Tim Devaney can be reached at tdevaney@washingtontimes.com.

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