EU ministers unanimously agreed to make a fresh push for an EU-US trade deal despite huge differences over a mechanism to allow firms fend off new laws that they believe would militate against them.
Richard Bruton, the trade minister, was among those arguing for a comprehensive deal and said he believed the chances of concluding one were good, with a shift in the US congress towards the Republican party.
Ireland, he said, would benefit more than most other EU countries because of the large number of US multinationals, adding 1.1% to GDP and creating an extra 8,000 jobs. He sought to allay food industry fears, pointing to the recent agreement with Canada that has opened up their dairy and beef markets to Irish farmers.
He said the traditional investor state dispute settlement mechanism may not be fit for purpose and the US had recognised that it may need to be changed. This would include carving out elements of public policy to ensure governments had freedom of action but at the same time giving investors confidence.
The traditional way of negotiating in secret was not going to work either, and he said Ireland would be happy to put on the table the overall negotiating position as part of the EU’s aim to increase transparency to win over a largely hostile public.
Italian minister Carlo Calenda, who chaired the meeting in Brussels, warned that there would have to be some kind of investor state dispute settlement clause (ISDS) in any agreement with the US and it was already part of the negotiating mandate.
The mandate stated the ISDS should not jeopardise countries’ right to regulate or interfere with national sovereignty.
“For the time being we do not see any need to change the mandate and to change it now would be the end of the negotiation,” he said.
This kind of dispute procedure has been included in all other EU trade pacts and it could not be omitted from similar agreements with countries such as China or EU firms would be at a disadvantage, Mr Calenda said.
There was a window of opportunity now until the beginning of 2016 when the US will have elections.
If the basic deal is not agreed by then, it could be postponed until 2018 when the US could have finalised a trade agreement with Asia-Pacific.
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