Washington (Alliance News) - The top US and EU trade officials Monday set a high goal for ongoing transatlantic trade talks, saying that two of the world's largest markets want to continue to play the leading role in setting world standards and norms.
US Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht are to continue meeting Tuesday. The talks mark the first time they have formally conferred.
The meeting is intended to provide a political stock-taking in order to give their respective teams guidance for the next stage of talks in March in Brussels.
"What we are trying to do is ... work together to make sure that we can continue to play a leading role in world markets about norms and standard setting - not in a 'closed shop' manner, but in an open way," De Gucht said.
The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) would create the world's largest free-trade area with the goal of spurring much-needed growth and jobs.
Since tariffs are already low, the greatest gains are intended to be made by coming up with common regulations and standards - for example, in car safety or the pharmaceutical industry. That would also reduce costs for exporters.
European consumer groups are worried that the deal would lower those standards, and the fact that both De Gucht and Froman referred to the issue appeared to be a bid to put those worries to rest.
In fact, the growing economic power of China is seen as a strong factor in motivating trade negotiators to bring in a deal with unusual speed - by late 2014 by 2015 - and claim the high ground not only in trade but also in setting high standards.
De Gucht said the negotiators were making "steady progress - I would say more steady progress than we normally have in a trade negotiation, which is never easy."
Last year, the National Intelligence Council, an official group that advises the US national intelligence director, projected that by 2030, Asia's weight in the global economy will be restored to its pre-1750 level. China would lead the way by contributing about one-third of global economic growth by 2025, the World Bank has projected.
The EU and US currently have the world's largest trade relationship, making up at least 40% of global economic output, according to the EU.
If the US and EU manage to agree on uniform rules and standards, it would probably severely handicap China's efforts to go it alone and set its own autonomous standards, according to Edward Alden, a US expert at the think tank Council on Foreign Relations.
Froman was optimistic about the talks with De Gucht, saying that after three rounds of talks, there were "both great opportunities and a few challenges."
"I expect that when we finish tomorrow, we'll have a clearer sense of how we can meet the various challenges and how to work closely to bridge our differences," Froman said.
The larger challenges include insistence by some in the European Parliament that they won't give their blessing until the US completes a "no-spy" deal with European countries who are outraged over the National Security Agency's spying on their leaders and citizens.
Another bump has been criticism by EU and US consumer groups over the proposal to set up secret courts to rule on complaints by an investor on one side of the Atlantic against a government on the other side. The EU has put that issue on ice while it meets with civil society groups for their input.
An additional problem from the US side is the reluctance of Congress to revive the so-called "fast-track" law that requires it to vote a trade deal either up or down. Currently, Congress can amend or reject a trade deal on a clause by clause basis, tying the hands of Froman and the negotiators from making concrete assurances to their EU partners.
Obama has been pressing leaders of his Democratic Party in Congress to revive the provision, but has met with resistance so far.
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