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Obama defends proposed EU trade pact


Obama defends proposed EU trade pact

Obama defends proposed EU trade pact
Photo credit: US House of Representatives

President Barack Obama defended a proposed U.S. trade deal with the European Union against charges it might weaken environmental standards and consumer protection, saying he wouldn’t allow that to happen.

While voters may have “legitimate questions” about the impact of the trade talks, neither side will agree to a bad deal that allows companies to run around the rules, Obama said. The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which the U.S. and the EU began negotiating last year, aims to maintain or strengthen consumer safeguards, he said in Brussels today.

“I have no intention of signing legislation that would weaken those protections,” Obama said when asked about the deal’s consequences at a news conference following an EU-U.S. summit. “There is a way of doing this right that will help us make sure that we remain at the cutting edge of innovation.”

The U.S. and the EU are working toward a trade deal after sparring for decades over issues including agricultural protections, food safety and other regulatory standards. Talks, which have been given renewed impetus by the standoff over Ukraine, also are taking aim at $10.5 billion in tariffs.

“In days like these, forging strong economic ties across the Atlantic is a political sign,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy told the same briefing.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on March 22 called on the EU to renew pledges to eliminate tariffs by the time the deal is complete. Each side has complained about the offers presented in negotiations so far.

Tariffs are already low and could shrink even further if the deal proceeds, European Commission President Jose Barroso told the same Brussels briefing today. “We are trying to get it even lower,” he said.

‘Residual Protection’ 

The EU’s ambassador to the U.S., Joao Vale de Almeida, said the final agreement may not be able to wipe out every tariff on every product. Services and procurement are other essential elements of the proposed trade deal, he told reporters after the press conference.

“The purpose that we had from the very start is to reduce tariffs as close as possible to zero,” Vale de Almeida said, adding that there may be a need for “residual protection here and there.” There are “other issues in our view equally or more important than tariffs,” he said.

Barroso called for the trade talks to gain a “new impulse” that “will be very important to give a decisive injection of dynamism.” The EU and U.S. economies stand to add jobs and give a boost to households and small businesses if the deal succeeds, he said.

Talks Timetable 

EU and U.S. trade officials originally set the end of 2014 for completing the talks. Froman said there isn’t a hard schedule for how the talks should proceed, especially given impending elections to the European Parliament in May and the European Commission’s term expiring later this year.

Obama said he was confident the U.S. and the EU could find a deal that offered benefits across their respective economies.

“I think it is important for us as leaders to ensure that trade is helping folks at the bottom and folks in the middle, and broad-based prosperity, not just a few elites,” Obama said. “That’s the test that I’m going to apply in whether or not it makes sense for us to move forward in a trade deal.”


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