US and European Union trade negotiators claimed progress Friday as they closed out the first week of ambitious talks to create a huge transatlantic free-trade zone.
Despite controversy over US spying on its European allies and both sides laying out potentially divisive no-go areas, there were few signs of initial friction in the talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
“It’s been a very productive week,” EU chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia-Bercero said in a press conference.
“The main objective has been met: we had a substantive round of talks on the full range of topics that we intend to cover in this agreement. This paves the way to for a good second round of negotiations in Brussels in October.”
His US counterpart, Dan Mullaney, said the talks were “very positive.”
The talks opened Monday under pressure to reach agreement by late next year; leaders from both sides agreed on an accelerated timeline, aiming for a pact before a new European Commission takes office in November 2014.
Asked about the deadline, Mullaney would only say that the two sides agreed to “move expeditiously” toward a deal.
The main goal is to agree on removing bureaucratic, regulatory and protectionist barriers to more open trade and investment to create what would be the world’s largest free-trade area, involving 820 million people.
Key focuses of the talks ahead include agricultural trade, cross-border investment, intellectual property rights and regulatory harmonization.
Both sides hope that by bringing down restrictions on trade and investment — most of which involve non-tariff barriers rather than trade tariffs, which are already low — will help generate jobs and boost economic growth.
Mullaney said there was no mention this week of the spying furor which almost scuttled the opening of TTIP negotiations.
France had called for a delay in the wake of disclosures that the US National Security Agency has not only been vacuuming up huge quantities of phone and Internet data but also snooping on its allies.
To avoid stalling the talks, separate US-EU discussions on the NSA activities were held quietly this week at the Department of Justice.
Garcia-Bercero said the two sides had identified about 20 different areas to cover.
“Negotiators identified certain areas of convergence across various components of the negotiation and – in areas of divergence – begun to explore possibilities to bridge the gaps,” he said.
The areas of divergence could potentially involve red-line issues the US and Europe set out before the talks began: US banking regulations, and France’s protections for its film and television industry.
More broadly, Europe will raise the widespread preferences that US states, cities and the federal government give to local contractors and suppliers, including in the lucrative defense sector.
And Washington will push Europe to open up to US biotechnology products like genetically modified foods, which many European consumers consider dangerous.
The week was marked by an entire day devoted to discussions with US industry representatives worried and hopeful about the negotiations, and a briefing for US legislators also concerned on how a treaty would impact their constituents.
The next round of talks was scheduled for the week of October 7, in Brussels.
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