US, European Union to begin talks on free-trade deal
WASHINGTON — The U.S. and the European Union will begin talks next month on an ambitious free-trade deal between the two rich regions, which exchanged more than $645 billion in goods last year.
But the announcement, made Monday ahead of the Group of 8 summit in Northern Ireland, came against a backdrop of contention over French insistence that subsidized domestic movies remain protected and questions about U.S. government surveillance programs.
President Barack Obama, standing alongside EU leaders and British Prime Minister David Cameron, nonetheless hailed the proposed transatlantic trade agreement as a “potentially groundbreaking partnership” that would deepen ties between two areas that account for about 45 percent of the global economy.
The aim is to reach a comprehensive deal that would remove all tariffs and develop uniform standards on a wide range of goods and services that would bolster trade, investment and jobs. The first talks will be held in Washington the week of July 8.
The announcement was a victory for Cameron, who as host of this year’s G-8 summit made the launch of the talks a priority. Cameron and other European leaders are particularly keen to energize a continent struggling with the eurozone’s debt crisis and long-standing structural economic problems.
Analysts said a trade agreement could take two years to craft. For example, the U.S. and Europe have very different safety standards for automobiles, even car bumpers.
The two also have strong disagreements on agricultural goods, including acceptance of genetically modified foods and the use of product names, such as Champagne, that designate specific places of origin.
One of the most sensitive areas is the so-called cultural exception sought by the French, who want to protect films produced in France, as well as French-language radio and other media from the long arm of Hollywood. The issue had threatened to stall the launch of the talks, but European officials decided Friday to punt on the matter.
More recently, revelations of the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance of telephone use and the Internet have raised questions about the need for a transatlantic agreement on data privacy standards, an important consideration for trade and investment.