The United States and European Union were to
launch groundbreaking free trade talks Monday, putting aside for the
time being the atmosphere of mistrust stirred up by revelations about
Washington's spying on European allies.
The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks have been more than a year in the planning. The aim is to create the world's largest free-trade zone by knocking down the average 4-per- cent tariffs and, more importantly, clearing away regulatory discrepancies that now inhibit trade.
To allay European concerns about espionage without threatening negotiations, the sides have agreed to hold parallel talks on the spying allegations, which arise from documents leaked by fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The US-EU economic relationship is already the world's largest, representing 30 per cent of global trade, according to the office of the US Trade Representative.
If successful in reaching a deal on both tariff and non-tariff issues, that number could grow to nearly half of global economic output, serving a total population of 800 million.
Ignacio Garcia Bercero will lead the EU delegation while Dan Mullaney will head the US team at the first round of talks over the next week. Discussions were also to take place among 15 smaller groups, according to an EU source close to the negotiations.
The US Trade Representative lists 24 issues to be covered, ranging from agriculture, expected to be one of the thorniest issues, to textiles and financial services.
Backers of the trade deal hope to finish talks within 18 to 24 months, with another two rounds of discussion to take place this year alone. Officials emphasized that without compromises on standards and regulations, the expectations for economic stimulus will likely not be met.
"It is not a question of changing the EU regulatory approach, changing the US regulatory approach, but making them more compatible to avoid unnecessary duplication and unnecessary testing," the EU source said.
The trade deal offers the prospect of up to 2 million new jobs, according to Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation. The gross domestic products of the two sides could be boosted by 0.9 per cent in the EU and 0.8 per cent in the US, according to the Centre for Economic Policy Research.
Among the most contentious issues in agricultural production are the rules set for labelling of genetically-altered products, which are banned in the EU, as well as the EU ban on growth hormones in cattle and on so-called chlorinated chickens.
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