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EU and US make last trade gestures before Obama administration folds

An era of uncertainty opens in transatlantic relations, as in exactly one week President Obama (20 January 2017) will hand over the reins of power to Donald Trump. The US administration will focus on settling into working mode and not enter major trade negotiations for several months at least. US trade policy is also expected to take a more protectionist turn.

The EU and US failed to conclude their flagship TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) in 2016, but both sides are trying to salvage what can be salvaged for future trade relations.

In Brussels, member states have been working on a “possible joint EU-US public report” on TTIP this week.

In late 2016, pharma regulators were getting close to a deal on the mutual recognition of good manufacturing practices as part of a wider set of regulatory cooperation discussions within TTIP. If they succeed, it would become an amendment of the ‘Pharmaceutical GMPs Annex’ of the EU-US 1998 Mutual Recognition Agreement. This deal can come into force independently of TTIP. Member states examined the deal on Thursday and Friday (12 & 13 January).

No announcement has been made at the time of writing of this article on the above initiatives. Yet other policy moves made today signal there has been an exchange of goodwill gestures on a variety of commercial topics. The EU and US finalised a ‘covered agreement’ on insurance, which recognises recent US Dodd Frank legislation on consumer protection in the sector as equivalent to the EU’s.

“We are pleased the US and EU were able to conclude this Agreement which resolves uncertainty for US insurers and reinsurers,” said US Trade Representative Michael Froman. “This agreement will provide opportunities for US insurers and reinsurers doing business in the EU while continuing to ensure a high standard of protection for US and EU consumers”, Froman believes.

The EU for its part has had a US ban on exports of French beef lifted. The measure had been in place since the late 1990s BSE – ‘mad cow’ – crisis. The Commission praised the move as “a new step in the reopening of a closed market”.

The French had been among the more recalcitrant EU member states in the TTIP discussions, and had called for a suspension of the talks in late 2016, not least due to the impression in Paris that there was insufficient progress in granting French exporters and farmers better market access in the US.

During a panel discussion at the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) on Wednesday (10 January 2016) Michael Froman said that TTIP was “not dead”, though it would take a long time to be concluded.