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Americans hopeful Ireland can help move EU-US free-trade deal forward

Irish Times, Dublin

Americans hopeful Ireland can help move EU-US free-trade deal forward

By Nary Fitzgerald, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

16 January 2013

American government officials say they are hopeful talks aimed at securing an EU-US trade agreement will gain momentum under Ireland’s presidency of the European Council but they admit some issues, such as genetically modified crops, are likely to prove difficult during negotiations.

The so-called High Level Working Group, comprised of top European and American trade officials, was due to issue a statement in November that would set down a framework for detailed talks on a potential agreement encompassing regulatory standards and non-tariff barriers. But the statement was delayed until December and then January. It has yet to materialise.

In a briefing yesterday on US perspectives on the Irish presidency of the EU, a senior American government official said the group’s recommendations are expected “within weeks” but acknowledged it would be “late spring, early summer” before negotiations begin.

“This is not easy . . . it is not going to be finished in three or six months,” the official said. “It is more important to get it right than fast.”

European leaders believe a free-trade deal between the EU and its largest trading partner would help stimulate growth on the continent.

April meeting

Advancing such a pact is high on the agenda for Ireland during its six-month presidency. Irish officials hope that an informal meeting of trade ministers in Dublin in April could deliver a mandate to the European Commission, allowing Ireland to set out a road map for a comprehensive trade agreement during the latter stages of the presidency.

British prime minister David Cameron said recently that securing an EU-US trade deal would be a priority for him as Britain takes over the rotating leadership of the G8.

The US official described EU-US trade links as the “most important economic relationship in the world” and said such a deal would bring “significant benefits” to both sides.

He acknowledged that agriculture is “key for both sides” in any such negotiations, with related issues such as biotechnology and cloning “very difficult points” between the two. The idea of excluding biotechnology from any deal would be “difficult to understand” in the US.