EU says it is ready to launch U.S. trade talks, but without agriculture
- EU ready to discuss cars, U.S. wants farm products in talks
- France opposes start of talks, Belgium abstained
- US senator: Congress “unlikely” to pass a no-agriculture deal
The European Union is ready to start talks on a trade agreement with the United States and aims to conclude a deal before year-end, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on Monday.
The EU approved two areas for negotiation, opposed by France with an abstention from Belgium. But agriculture was not included, leaving the 28-country bloc at odds with Washington, which has insisted on including farm products in the talks.
The EU vote allows the Commission to start two sets of negotiations - one to cut tariffs on industrial goods, the other to make it easier for companies to show products meet EU or U.S. standards.
Malmstrom said she would now reach out to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to see when talks could begin.
“We are ready as soon as they are,” Malmstrom told a news conference.
A spokeswoman for Lighthizer declined to comment.
But U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the tax and trade-focused Senate Finance Committee, said a U.S.-EU trade deal that excluded agriculture would be “unlikely” to win approval in the U.S. Congress because so many lawmakers want farm access to Europe.
“Elimination of industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers only get us part of the way there, especially when we face major barriers to agricultural trade in the EU,” Grassley, himself an Iowa farmer, said in a statement. “Agriculture is a significant piece of the global economy and it simply doesn’t make sense to leave it out.”