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Irish PM Raises Numerous Sectors As Possible Difficulties In U.S.-EU Talks

Article on Inside US Trade, 19 March 2013 –

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny yesterday (March 18) identified multiple areas where he believed the U.S.-EU trade and investment negotiations would face difficulties, but said the talks could still possibly conclude in the next 18 months to two years.

“There will be difficult bridges to cross in the areas of health and safety standards, public procurement and agriculture,” Kenny said at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He also identified government policies that promote the audiovisual sector in certain countries, such as France, as a potential problem area, along with information technology. Policies in the audiovisual sector are aimed at promoting cultural diversity.

Kenny, whose country currently holds the rotating council presidency of the European Union, said the draft mandate submitted by the European Commission last week “may not be perfect, but it takes into account some of the little concerns that individual countries at the European level might have.” Separately, an EU source said that the draft mandate says that member states maintain a right to pursue policies that maintain cultural diversity.

He noted that despite those sensitivities that countries seek to protect, “there’s certainly the backing of the vast majority of governments.”

“Yes, you will have difficulties in the agricultural sector, in the audiovisual sector – some countries in Europe have particular areas that they would focus on – but by and large, I have to say, there seems to be a very real understanding that this is going to be part of the future of Europe,” the prime minister said.

Kenny said the focus right now is to work on building approval for the draft mandate submitted by the commission last week, “so those discussions and negotiations can actually start.” He said Ireland in its role as the presidency is focused on ensuring that a final mandate approved by member states will not demand any carveouts upfront.

Kenny said all he wants in a final mandate is “a platform where these discussions can start.” He added that he could “actually see [the talks] being possibly concluded in 18 months to two years.”

Ireland is aiming to obtain a negotiating mandate from the member states by the conclusion of its presidency at the end of June. Kenny did not indicate how likely it would be for the final mandate to be approved by then, but he noted more than once that there was a high level of support for the negotiations among the EU heads of state, who meet under the auspices of the European Council.

“So, by the end of June, hopefully [the mandate is] done, negotiations can start, and if everything went well that could be concluded sometime next year, but then I can’t predict what the nature of, how technical the discussions might get at one part or another,” he said.

He stressed the potential benefits of a trans-Atlantic deal, saying he was “convinced that an ambitious, comprehensive and far-reaching agreement on trade and investment between the EU and the U.S. will not only trigger economic growth in our respective economies, but will also send a strong signal of leadership to other economic powers.”

“I am convinced that if both sides take an open and flexible approach, we will be able to agree on convergence on regulatory issues, effectively setting the standard for world trade,” the prime minister said.

He also pointed to his government’s openness and willingness to work with business, “so if you have a concern or an anxiety or an opportunity that you see, a potential that you want followed through on, you’re talking to the right people.”

Kenny also met today (March 19) with President Obama at the White House, where the two leaders discussed the forthcoming negotiations. After that, they both attended a “Friends of Ireland” luncheon on Capitol Hill with members of Congress.

Kenny said at the Chamber event that he expected the domestic process for launching negotiations in the United States to “happen very quickly.” The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative may send up its formal notification to Congress on its intent to enter into new negotiations with the EU this week.

The two sides are trying to move through their procedural requirements in tandem, which is why it may make sense for USTR to move ahead with its notification this week.