Wall Street Journal | 23 Jan 2014
U.S., EU negotiators say obstacles won’t delay trade accord
Investment-disputes issue won’t hold up trans-atlantic deal
By STEPHEN FIDLER and MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG CONNECT
DAVOS, Switzerland—The chief trade negotiators of the U.S. and the European Union admitted obstacles to a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement, but said a European decision to open public consultations over proposed procedures to settle investment disputes wouldn’t delay the accord.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told a small group of reporters attending the World Economic Forum that Washington welcomed Europe’s public consultations on the investment issue and didn’t believe it would slow the overall effort to reach a broad agreement.
European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who announced the decision to seek a public consultation earlier this week, said the investment issue was just one of scores of matters being negotiated and wouldn’t hold up the talks. The public consultation is over proposals to include a so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism in the agreement.
Mr. Froman said he thinks the broad agreement is "coming along well." Though the two sides have differences on a number of issues, Washington is "very committed" to bridging them, he said.
One potential difference is over whether financial services would be included in the accord, with Washington’s financial regulatory authorities resisting its inclusion in the deal.
Mr. De Gucht said inclusion of financial services in the accord was "essential." In a public discussion at the World Economic Forum, Mr. Froman was noncommittal about whether this would be possible.
Mr. Froman said calls from some European leaders to delay the talks until the U.S. addresses European concerns over surveillance by the National Security Agency have so far had little impact on the discussions, he said.
He declined to give a timetable for an agreement, however. "We’ll let the substance of the negotiations determine the timetable," he said. Mr. De Gucht wouldn’t commit to a timetable either.
Mr. De Gucht said Europe wouldn’t change "basic legislation" to make the agreement happen, including a long-standing EU ban on importing beef containing hormones, which U.S. farmers would like to see lifted. "We are not going to import hormone beef into the EU," he said.
He said he and Mr. Froman would meet in mid-February to take stock of advances after three rounds of negotiations so far.
Write to Stephen Fidler at email@example.com and Matthew Karnitschnig at firstname.lastname@example.org