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Karel De Gucht has said that while good progress is being made on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiators must now "step up a gear" if they hope to find common solutions to the problems facing them.
Speaking following a "stocktaking" meeting with US Trade Representative Michael Froman, the European Union's (EU) Trade Commissioner claimed that "more work is needed on all aspects of the negotiations." Participants "cannot afford to lose sight" of their overall objective of creating new opportunities for companies and boosting employment.
Last week, both sides exchanged offers on the tariff cuts they are prepared to make. Tariffs are typically low, averaging at around 4 percent. According to De Gucht, "we'll have to see where bridging those differences is possible to ensure balance," adding that this was "critical for any deal to succeed."
De Gucht is also concerned about the scope for agreement on services and public procurement. He intends to "create an innovative set of rules that could become leading examples for future trade agreements." Beyond this, the regulatory part of the agreement will "probably be the toughest nut to crack." The EU is not prepared to negotiate its standards on consumer protection, the environment, data protection, or food.
De Gucht would nevertheless like to ensure that regulatory agencies "coordinate more closely with each other, so that where safety levels are similar, double testing and double inspectors can be avoided in future to save companies money, and so that future differences in regulation can be avoided before they become a trade hurdle for companies, especially for SMEs."
For his part, Froman made clear that the removal of "unnecessary regulatory barriers to trade" must be accompanied by the maintenance of "appropriate levels of health, safety, and environmental protection."
He hopes that there will be "opportunities to make substantial progress in the coming months." The "resolve and the political will to reach an ambitious, comprehensive agreement remain strong," and negotiators will continue to work up to the next formal round, scheduled to begin on March 10 in Brussels.
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