The European Union is ready to start talks on a trade agreement with the United States and aims to conclude a deal before year-end, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on Monday, Reuters reports.
The EU approved two areas for negotiation, opposed by France with an abstention from Belgium. But agriculture was not included, leaving the 28-country bloc at odds with Washington, which has insisted on including farm products in the talks, the report said.
The EU vote allows the Commission to start two sets of negotiations – one to cut tariffs on industrial goods, the other to make it easier for companies to show products meet EU or US standards.
Malmstrom said she will now reach out to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to see when talks could begin.
“We are ready as soon as they are,” Malmstrom told a news conference.
But US Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the tax and trade-focused Senate Finance Committee, said a US-EU trade deal that excludes agriculture would be “unlikely” to win approval in the US Congress because so many lawmakers want farm access to Europe.
“Elimination of industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers only get us part of the way there, especially when we face major barriers to agricultural trade in the EU,” Grassley said in a statement.
“Agriculture is a significant piece of the global economy and it simply doesn’t make sense to leave it out.”
The European Commission has said it is willing to discuss cars as part of the industrial goods talks, but not agriculture.
“Agriculture will certainly not be part of these negotiations. This is a red line for Europe,” Malmstrom said.
She added that Brussels would strive to agree what amounted to a limited deal before the Commission’s term ends on Oct. 31. “If we agree to start, I think it can go quite quickly.”
Malmstrom stressed that the potential tariffs deal was far less ambitious than the previous “TTIP” negotiations, which stalled after three years and have now been rendered obsolete.
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