Barroso says EU-US trade negotiations can be a 'game changer'

The launch of comprehensive trade talks with Washington could be a "game changer" for both the EU and US, according to European commission president José Manuel Barroso.

By Kayleigh Lewis

17 Jun 2013

Speaking on Friday, following the go-ahead by EU governments authorising the commission to start official EU-US free trade discussions, Barroso said, "I am delighted we have a mandate to negotiate an agreement on trade and investment with the United States.

"It shows that where there is a will there is a way. These negotiations can be a game changer."

However, the adoption of the commission's 'negotiating mandate' allowing the EU executive to begin discussions was overshadowed by the threat of a French government veto.

Paris has been at odds with the commission over the scope of the potential deal and had publicly warned that it would block the start of negotiations unless cultural sectors such as television and radio were excluded from the talks.

"We are already each other's biggest trade and investment partners. Strengthening this relationship will bring more jobs, more growth to Europe and the United States" - José Manuel Barroso

France's insistence on the so-called "cultural exception" rule which would exclude audiovisual goods and services from the discussions on the grounds that cultural goods and services are inherently different from other products almost scuppered the deal.

However in their final deliberations, EU ministers accepted France's demand to exclude the audiovisual sector in the current negotiation mandate, while allowing the commission the right to request a review on the issue at some future stage.

Despite the exclusion and the sometimes ill-tempered discussions on the negotiating mandate, Barroso emphasised the positives of the agreement, saying, "We are already each other's biggest trade and investment partners. Strengthening this relationship will bring more jobs, more growth to Europe and the United States.

"The potential economic gains for the EU are estimated at around €120bn a year. And the real beauty of this deal is that it will offer real returns of around €545 per average household in Europe almost for free.

"The European commission will take these negotiations forward. We will work quickly while ensuring that the substance is right."

EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, while stating that he was "delighted" that member states had given the commission "the green light" to start trade negotiations with the US, made it clear that discussions over audiovisual services were still open, despite the current exclusion.

"Let me be clear," said De Gucht, "this is not a carve-out. Audiovisual services are presently not in the mandate, but the mandate clearly indicates that the commission has the possibility to come back to the council with additional negotiating directives after, on the basis of a discussion with our US counterparts.

Jean-Pierre Audy, chair of the EPP group's French delegation in the European parliament, welcomed the exclusion of audiovisual services from the mandate calling it a "great political victory".

His French EPP colleagues Nora Berra and Toika Saifi described the outcome as a "victory for the defenders of European culture", while Jean-Marie Cavada, who heads up parliament's media intergroup, said, "European works that nourish our cultures and their diversity cannot be considered on a market basis like consumer products."

"The cultural economy should be consolidated in Europe," Cavada added.

However, Audy said that he was "extremely disappointed" by the commission's attitude towards the exemption, arguing that it should have taken the opinion of parliament into account in the first place.

He said it was "regrettable" that an additional audiovisual services mandate, which threatened to disrupt the smooth negotiations, has now been included.

Meanwhile, Greens group trade spokesperson Yannick Jadot welcomed the exclusion of culture and audiovisual services, but criticised the "lack of transparency" regarding the negotiations, saying that it was a "major cause for concern".

He said, "The far-reaching nature of these negotiations mean the information is very much in the public interest, yet EU governments are insisting on keeping the mandate confidential."

However, S&D deputy Vital Moreira, rapporteur on the EU-US free trade agreement, said, "The parliament will have the final say, as its consent is required for the trade agreement to come into force. This is why we expect the commission to keep us informed about the process along the way."

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