October 31, 2013 3:46 pm

US Chamber of Commerce warns against EU trade talk obstacles

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The powerful US Chamber of Commerce has warned countries such as France against setting “red lines” in talks between Washington and Brussels on a new transatlantic trade accord.

Paris has adopted a hard line on the talks, insisting the EU should not make concessions on a range of core issues spanning agriculture, food standards and the cultural exception, the protection of domestic film and music industries.

“It is not a surprise when governments say there are red lines but we’ve got to be careful here,” said Myron Brilliant, the chamber’s head of international affairs. “There may be differences but that cannot be an excuse for not getting things done. The approach to take is to put everything on the table.”

Speaking to the Financial Times during a visit to Paris, Mr Brilliant said the US was not seeking to force a change in EU laws on issues such as genetically modified crops but to achieve mutual recognition of regulatory standards across a range of areas including food, chemicals, car emissions and medicines. The EU has a ban, for example, on beef produced using growth hormones.

“I don’t think Europeans, when they come to the US, pause to stop eating at Morton’s Steakhouse. They don’t hesitate to fly on American planes. So we just need to change perceptions and meet the reality that we may approach things differently but at the end of the day we have the same goals in mind (on health and safety).”

France had a “huge offensive interest” in gaining freer and cheaper access to US markets for its food, wine and liquor products, Mr Brilliant said.

He signalled that France’s refusal to include the cultural exception in the talks could be challenged. “It is an issue that will have to be taken up at some point. We understand why the French raised the issue. There are going to be issues on both sides. We’ll see how the negotiations go.”

The US and EU launched talks earlier this year on reaching a so-called transatlantic trade and investment partnership, which President Barack Obama wants to conclude in 2014.

Mr Brilliant warned that the ambitious deadline should not take precedence over a substantive deal.

The world is watching what Europe and the US do. If we are not successful we are going to undermine confidence in the world trading system. If we are, we will buttress it

- Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs, AmCham

“It is appropriate that the US government has talked about trying to get this done on one tank of gas. We need to have a sense of urgency. What we’re also saying is let’s be careful that expectations about timing do not undercut the importance of the content.”

He said a deal must cover regulatory issues, agriculture and services liberalisation, including financial services. “We want an agreement that is comprehensive. It will take time to work through those issues.”

He added: “It doesn’t mean every issue has to be resolved but it needs a recognition on both sides that an agreement absent of significant progress on a whole range of regulatory issues, including agriculture, would not be worthwhile.

“The world is watching what Europe and the US do. If we are not successful we are going to undermine confidence in the world trading system. If we are, we will buttress it.”

Mr Brilliant said he had been “reassured” on his trip to Brussels and Paris that the furore over allegations of spying on Europe by the US National Security Agency would not hold up the trade negotiations.

“Our sense is that no one is taking the position in government that negotiations should be suspended and that is a good thing.”

Despite calls from some in the European parliament, including Martin Schulz, the chamber’s president and a German social democrat, to suspend talks on the trade pact, EU leaders at a summit in Brussels last week did not link the two. According to one EU official briefed on closed-door summit debates, the only mention of the trade talks during the hours-long NSA discussion were a handful of leaders who argued against putting the trade talks at risk.

Additional reporting by Peter Spiegel in Brussels

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