Thursday 22 March 2018

State will use EU presidency and close ties with US to lead push for free trade deal

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

The Government said it would use Ireland's EU presidency and good relations with the United States to lead the push on an EU-US trade deal.

US President Barack Obama announced in his annual 'State of the Union' address that he wanted negotiations on the deal to begin.

Trade Minister Richard Bruton said such a deal would have enormous benefits for Ireland and the US and would be worth at least €100m to Ireland at a "conservative estimate". He announced an informal meeting in Dublin in April to discuss the EU approach to the talks, which are expected to drag on for two years.

The talks come at a difficult time for both trading blocs as they face competition from China and other fast-growing nations. Mr Bruton's comments came on the same day that the Central Statistics Office revealed that Irish goods exports to the US plunged almost 16pc last year.

Both sides want an agreement although they will struggle to reach a deal on issues such as agriculture and aircraft.

Mr Bruton said in a speech yesterday that he would "be using my chairmanship of the EU's Trade Council to make progress on a new EU-US Trade Agreement. I also hope to be able to sign off on a new trade deal with Canada". Talks with Canada have been dragging on for four years.

Mr Obama, who will meet with Taoiseach Enda Kenny next month, called for talks on a far-reaching free trade agreement with the EU, throwing his weight behind a deal that would encompass half the world's economic output.

"Tonight I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs," he said in his speech.

The United States and the EU already have the largest economic relationship in the world, and one of the most complicated. A pact would unite the United States, the world's largest economy, with four other countries in the top 10: Germany, France, Britain and Italy.

Since most tariffs between the United States and the EU are already low, reducing regulatory barriers to trade in areas like agriculture and chemicals is expected to be the most challenging aspect of the talks.

The EU recently lifted bans on imports of US live pigs and beef washed with lactic acid to help build confidence that it can address US agricultural concerns.

The US-EU talks also are expected to tackle new areas, such as setting rules to govern the free flow of information across borders. That is an increasingly important priority for big US Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon but could be hard for EU members France and Germany to accept because of privacy concerns.

Meanwhile, the two sides are locked in a long-running battle at the World Trade Organisation over government support for Boeing, the largest the US exporter, and its European rival, Airbus.

That dispute threatens to erupt into a transatlantic trade war in coming years unless the two sides can work out a negotiated settlement.

Two-way goods trade between the United States and the EU now totals more than $600bn annually. Services trade, including sales by majority-owned US or EU companies in each other's market, adds about $1.2bn.

US companies have invested around $1.9 trillion in production, distribution and other operations in the EU, far more than in China or anywhere else in the world. EU companies have invested about $1.6 trillion in the United States.

As the home to many US multi-nationals, Ireland is well-positioned to benefit from a successful outcome. Trade between Ireland and the US is hugely significant although it has fallen lately. New trade figures published yesterday showed that Irish exports to the US fell 15.9pc last year.

Irish Independent

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