U.S., European trade negotiators battle political headwinds

Fri Apr 29, 2016 6:39pm EDT
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By David Lawder

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Facing deeply entrenched differences and political headwinds, the top negotiators trying to reach a sweeping U.S.-European free trade deal avoided agriculture, public procurement and other thorny issues in talks this week.

Instead, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Daniel Mullaney and European Commission lead negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercera said on Friday they concentrated on less controversial areas such as small and medium enterprises and technical language.

But both insisted after their 13th negotiating round in New York that they can still reach a deal this year before U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office in January.

Mullaney said concerns over a June referendum in Britain over whether to leave the European Union would not slow efforts to reach a deal to boost trade, investment and job growth on both continents, and nor would anti-trade rhetoric from the U.S. presidential campaign trail.

"We're confident that we can achieve that kind of an agreement and that when we do, later this year, it'll be an agreement that the public on both sides of the Atlantic can support," Mullaney said.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has said he would scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and has been especially critical of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement for "destroying" U.S. jobs.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, has also said TPP is unacceptable in its current form.

"I haven't seen a worse political environment for trade deals" negotiations, said Robert Vastine, a former president of the Coalition of Service Industries, who gave a presentation on services at a forum on the sidelines of the New York talks.   Continued...

A Mini car is seen with a Union flag and European Union flag design on its bonnet in London, Britain March 31, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville