EU and US trade negotiators signalled their satisfaction at the close of the first week of talks aimed at securing a potentially lucrative bilateral trade agreement worth €119 billion per year.
“We are very optimistic about our prospects,” Dan Mullaney, the chief negotiator for the US, told reporters in Washington DC on Friday (12 July).
“The goal of the first round was to walk through, cover, all of the major areas that may be addressed,” added Mullaney, although he revealed that the hottest topic in EU-US relations, namely alleged surveillance programmes used by US security services to spy on European institutions and countries, had not been on the agenda.
“Those conversations are taking place in another channel,” he said.
For his part, Ignacio Garcia-Bercero, the EU’s chief negotiator, commented that the first round had “paved way for an intensive process … which could be transformative for our economies.”
Around 150 negotiators in 24 working groups took part in the first round of talks. The EU will host the second round in Brussels, scheduled for October. Both Mullaney and Garcia-Bercero conceded that the hard bargaining was still a fair way off.
The two officials also refused to be drawn publicly on which issues could prove most problematic, but the trickiest sectors are expected to include financial services and food and agriculture.
More broadly, reaching agreement on so-called ‘regulatory coherence’ that would harmonise product and technical standards between EU and US jurisdictions is expected to be tough, especially as these areas rarely form part of trade talks.
“It’s clear that both sides are trying to deal with regulatory issues … but this approach is novel … so clearly these are going to be difficult issues,” said Garcia-Bercero.
The European Commission estimates that a comprehensive TTIP could boost the EU’s economic output by around 0.5 percent a year and lead to a 28 percent hike in EU exports of goods and services to the US.
While the scope of the talks remain ambitious, so is the timetable. Both sides are hoping to complete agreement before the end of 2014, less than eighteen months away, and far quicker than the three year average timeline.
“We are very interested in moving expeditiously,” noted Mullaney, who added that “without naming names this negotiation is being watched very closely by the highest levels.”