As they concluded their first round of trade talks in Washington on Friday, chief negotiators for the United States and the European Union said they’d made good progress this week and announced plans for a second round in Brussels the week of Oct. 7.
“We are very optimistic about our prospects,” Dan Mullaney, the chief U.S. negotiator, said at the White House Conference Center as the two sides wrapped up five days of meetings.
Despite a long list of thorny issues that they pledge to resolve, negotiators hope to finalize a new trade deal, which would rank as the largest in history, by the end of next year.
Ignacio Garcia-Bercero, the EU’s chief negotiator, said the negotiations had “the strongest level of political commitment” in the European Union.
“We have paved the way for an intensive process of negotiations,” he said, adding that negotiators on both sides hope to produce a pact “that will be transformative for our economies.”
Mullaney said negotiators had spent the first week walking through a long list of topics they intend to cover in future meetings, including electronic commerce, agriculture, environmental, food and labor issues, energy, intellectual property rights, investment and procurement, regulation and ways to resolve disputes, among others.
One topic he said they didn’t discuss: spying.
Last week, the French government argued for suspending the talks temporarily in response to news reports that the U.S. government had been spying on European countries. But Mullaney said no surveillance issues were discussed at the trade talks.
“Those conversations are taking place in another channel,” he said.
Some of the biggest differences between the two sides center on food issues, with many Europeans objecting to U.S. genetically modified products and meat injected with hormones.
Asked whether there was any indication this week that Europe is ready to relax its food-safety rules, Garcia-Bercero offered no direct answer. But he said the European Union had discussed genetically modified foods with the United States in the past and that it was “a conversation that we will be ready to continue.”
Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative, who was sworn in last month, said earlier that a new trade pact could produce billions of dollars in new U.S. exports.
The proposed pact has drawn criticism from opponents, who worry that negotiators will try to weaken consumer-protection laws to help businesses and corporations increase their profits.