Richard Bruton proposed free trade agreement with China

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton urged the European Commission to bring negotiations over a contentious transatlantic trade deal to “a rapid conclusion” and said he hoped an equivalent Chinese deal could also be struck.

Richard Bruton proposed free trade agreement with China

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is aimed at encouraging trade between the EU and US by removing some remaining tariffs and harmonising regulatory standards.

Opponents’ greatest concern centres on the establishment of a special trade court which they say offers corporations the power to sue sovereign states but which the Commission deems necessary to protect businesses’ interests.

The deal has been mired in controversy over the special trade court and its predecessor, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), since talks began in July 2013, leaving negotiators scrambling the get a deal over the line before US president Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.

Despite significant concern over TTIP, Mr Bruton’s intervention in correspondence with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström seen by the Irish Examiner urged a swift resolution to negotiations.

“I hope the two largest and most economically important trade negotiations, namely with Japan and the US, will continue to be prioritised with a view to rapid conclusion.

"It is my hope the pace of work can be accelerated over the coming months so we can deliver on what is an unique chance to cement the close economic, political and cultural ties in the transatlantic relationship,” Mr Bruton wrote.

Mr Bruton also warned “nothing in Free Trade Agreements should have the effect of obstructing member states in their pursuit of public policy measures such as Ireland’s legislation on plain packaging cigarettes”.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris tried to overturn Australia’s plain-packaging laws using ISDS in an ultimately failed attempt which cost the Australian government an estimated €33.5m to defend.

The deal is also seen by some as important in shaping the future of global trade and restricting China’s role in that regard.

In that context, Mr Bruton’s desire for a similar deal to be struck with China may raise some eyebrows among negotiators, particularly on the US side.

“Important progress has been made in improving trade relations with China through economic dialogue and the current negotiations on an Investment Agreement.

"In time I hope a successful outcome will open the path to commencing negotiations on an FTA [free trade agreement] with China,” Mr Bruton wrote.

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