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Karel De Gucht
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

'Still many challenges'

Interview: Gero Schliess, Washington / jrb
February 19, 2014

Negotiations on a transatlantic free-trade zone will enter their crucial phase in March. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht explains his strategy in a DW interview.


DW: What have been the results of your talks here in Washington?

Karel de Gucht: We did a political stocktaking, which means that after three months of negotiations, for the first time we looked at this from a political point of view. We identified what the real challenges are in all silos of the negotiations, how we're going to attack them and what level of ambition we should reach. I think it is very important to steer the upcoming negotiating rounds; we will have three between now and September. And then in September, we'll do this second stocktaking to narrow the discussions to what it is really about.

Where do you see the real challenges to a free-trade zone?

There are challenges in all parts of it - on tariffs, services and public procurement involving classic market access topics as well as on rules. It's a very broad negotiation. It's how you bring these two markets more closely together. That's a very broad topic, and you have challenges everywhere. But I believe on the other hand the fact that it's so broad also gives you more opportunities to find the checks and balances that you need to come to a balanced agreement.

So where are the no-gos? In Germany, there is a heated debate on hormone beef and consumer security, for instance.

I have said this time and again: There will be no import of hormone beef on the European market. I cannot be any clearer about this. Yes, of course, the Americans, if we ever come to an agreement, will have the opportunity to export more beef to the European Union than they have. But if they want to do that, it will have to be hormone-free beef, which means that they will have to produce hormone-free beef. It's as simple as that.

Are there other demands that won't happen with you as a negotiator?

We are not going to change our basic legislation. For example, the legislation with respect to GMOs [genetically modified organisms] will remain unchanged - that's not up for discussion.

What about data security? There is still a discussion in Germany about the NSA and spying on allies. Can you assure Europeans, especially the Germans, that you will hold a tough position on this in the negotiations?

We are presently discussing in the European Parliament new data legislation. And that will be the cornerstone for discussions. The discussions with the United States will not be about that legislation, but how within that legislation, for example, the flow of data with respect to commercial transactions can happen. But the data legislation as such is not up for discussion. That is completely up to the discretion of the European Parliament.

Negotiation is about giving and taking. So what do you want to give?

It's too early. We are now coming to the heart of the negotiations. I would be a very bad negotiator if I were to say now these are the trade-offs that I see and that I'm going to put on the table. I should start having them in the back of my mind but certainly not in the forefront of the media.

How do you see the timetable? When do you foresee negotiations being finalized? And how will you convince the European parliament where there is a lot of opposition as well as in the US Congress?

I think, practically speaking, if you want to get a deal, it should be no later than next year because then you enter into the election cycle in the United States. How are you going to convince them? We have elections for the European Parliament at the end of May, and we'll take it from there. We'll see what the composition of the European Parliament is. I can only come to the conclusion that up until now we have a European Parliament in favor of trade agreements. Without any noticeable problem, we got the agreement of the European Parliament on the trade deal with Korea, Colombia, Peru and the Central American States. So we take it forward from the European elections.

Karel De Gucht is the European Commissioner for Trade.

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