The report of the EU-US High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth was published on 11 February this year. The Group recommended significantly closer trade relations between the two economies of the EU and the US. It reported on the opportunities for mutually beneficial job creation, economic growth and international competitiveness that would follow from a comprehensive EU – US trade and investment agreement. These opportunities are truly significant, leading to an increase in EU GDP of up to 0.5% for an ambitious and comprehensive final agreement.
Following considerable preparatory work by the Irish Presidency and intensive discussions at the EU’s Trade Council that I chaired on 14 June, EU Trade Ministers agreed negotiating directives that will enable the Commission to formally open detailed talks on this Agreement. The negotiating mandate is broad based and positions the Commission to enter the talks with strong support from the Council to negotiate the best possible deal for Europe. The mandate includes three key components: market access; regulatory issues and non-tariff barriers; and the rules which will govern the operation of any dispute settlement. The scale of opportunity for economic growth and job creation from this agreement are potentially enormous. The TTIP will be the largest bilateral agreement ever negotiated and offers significant opportunity to help our exporters and especially SMEs access the huge US market for goods and services. Studies suggest that 2 million jobs could be created across the developed economies of the OECD if we successfully conclude an agreement that is comprehensive and deeply liberalises the transatlantic marketplace.
The negotiations on this trade agreement have not yet commenced; the first round is set to take place in Washington on 8 July. Consequently it is not possible to quantify either the extent of any US requests for access to the EU market, or the necessary trade off involved in respect of market access in the agriculture sector more broadly or the beef segment in particular. Nevertheless the negotiating directives agreed at the Trade Council on 14 June do include provisions that aim to improve animal welfare as well as ensuring that important issues for consumers, such as continuing restrictions or prohibitions on hormone treated fed food products as well as GMOs will not be changed.
The High Level Working Group recommended the phasing out of substantially all tariffs for all but the most sensitive tariffs. I have supported my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in recognising the beef sector as a sensitive sector of importance for Ireland. As I have done previously in other trade negotiations, I will continue to look for the most advantageous outcome from this trade and investment agreement with the US that promotes our vital economic interests, and that includes the special interests of the beef sector.