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EU-U.S. Free Trade Talks: A Long Road Ahead

The European Parliament voiced its increasingly significant position on Europe’s official policy towards the European Union-United States free trade agreement negotiations during the recent EU Summit in Brussels. During the session, the EP bowed under pressure from French constituents and others by calling for trade exemptions for sectors deemed vulnerable to incursion on cultural sovereignty; namely "audiovisual industries."

During the summit, EP officials also voiced their intention to closely follow and potentially block a deal arising from consultations with the U.S. to create a free trade pact, known as the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP), that would ease the flow of goods between two of the world’s largest traders; presently accounting for nearly a third of the world’s trade and close to half of global economic output.  

This is important because despite its immense economic potential, TTIP has already met with varying degrees of opposition from global stakeholders; with the latest coming from members of the EP. These critics point to several likely obstacles impacting the success of the agreement. Specifically, many cite a deviation from World Trade Organization (WTO) efforts to reboot the Doha Round of trade negotiations and a history of EU-U.S. contention over trade policies governing global agriculture, intellectual property and information technology as key possible logjams. 

In defending the choice to advance TTIP negotiations to the EP, World Trade Organization and global critics, senior officials from the EU and U.S. point to the potential outcomes of the bilateral trade negotiations as key to the economic revitalization of the global economy and world-wide job creation. Internally, senior EU and U.S. officials have called for comprehensive trade negotiations and asked negotiators to avoid provisions that call for industrial omission or special treatment when they begin talks in June, despite a growing number of calls for the contrary.

In line with the EU and U.S. governments’ counter-narrative, EU trade chief Karl de Gucht and U.S. Ambassador to the EU William Kennard echoed their respective administrations’ calls for “no exclusions” to be made during the summit last week. In doing so, De Gucht criticized France’s call to exclude film and television from the upcoming negotiations, ensuring an audience of European business executives that an agreement would not affect the current corporate infrastructure surrounding those industries.  In his supporting comments, Kennard said that “carve-outs” would be detrimental to the overall success of the negotiations.

Unfortunately for both the EU and U.S., more hiccups like the EP's call for exemptions are expected en route to completing bilateral negotiations aimed at breaking down trade barriers supporting the global supply chain.  As a Dutch EP official put it, "the honeymoon phase [ahead of TTIP negotiations] is over."

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