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Sun, 25 May, 2014 03:32:36 AM
FTimes-Xinhua Report, May 25


The United States and the European Union (EU) concluded the fifth round of the Atlantic free trade talks on Friday, without yielding major significant breakthroughs after almost a year of negotiations.

"Nearly all of the negotiating groups met this week, and we're now discussing the proposed agreement wording in most of the negotiating areas," chief U.S. negotiator Dan Mullaney told a press conference after wrapping up five-day negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

"This week our teams have discussed tariffs, services and investment, government procurement -- all areas where both sides have indicated high ambitions for additional market access," he said.

Negotiators also discussed ways to promote greater regulatory compatibility in a range of sectors, including medical devices, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, automobiles as well as chemicals, he added.

Chief EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said the two sides had very good and intensive discussions on regulatory coherence, but "we have not at all reached the point in which we already have an agreement or a text on which we are working."

"Our objective ... is to reduce barriers and costs that arise due to unnecessary regulatory and standards differences between our two economies while maintaining ... high level of health, safety and environment protection," Mullaney said.

Following four rounds of negotiations that started last July, "we've moved from discussing a conceptual framework to defining specific ideas for addressing the majority of the negotiating areas," U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement.

The next round of TTIP negotiations, which aim at creating the world's largest free-trade area, will take place in July with specific dates not yet determined.

The U.S. and EU leaders have initially set a timetable for completing an agreement by late 2014. But negotiations moved very slowly amid rising political and public resistance to the deal on both sides.

Market access for genetically modified organisms and hormone-treated agricultural products was deemed the most difficult aspect of TTIP negotiations, followed by data protection and privacy standards, environmental standards and financial services regulation, according to a stakeholder survey released by the Atlantic Council and the Bertelsmann Foundation in March.

Only 29 percent of respondents believe a broad and comprehensive agreement would be reached, while 57 percent expect a moderate accord, which would exclude some controversial issues, the survey showed.

Being each other's largest economic partners, a successful TTIP would strengthen the transatlantic relationship and give the two sides bigger power in formulating future global trade rules.

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