US and EU negotiators launched their 14th round of talks on a mammoth and controversial free trade deal in Brussels on Monday, amid persistent doubts over whether the agreement can be wrapped up by the end of the year as planned.
Once finalized, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would create the world‘s largest free trade area, with around 800 million people. Negotiations began three years ago.
Proponents say TTIP would boost growth and jobs, but critics worry that it could water down consumer protections and make it easier for large corporations to sidestep national laws.
The week-long talks – the third round this year – will involve around 80 to 100 negotiators from each side of the Atlantic.
The EU side will present detailed proposals on the automotive, cosmetics, textiles, chemicals and engineering sectors, a senior source in Brussels said on condition of anonymity, adding that the US could outline its plans on trade defence issues, among other things.
The aim is to submit a full TTIP draft following the upcoming summer break, the EU source said, adding that negotiators are working “as fast as we can” to conclude talks by the end of the year.
Both sides hope to agree on the outlines of a deal before US President Barack Obama leaves office in January. But with several of the key issues unresolved, many are sceptical of that timetable.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said last week that the “big blocks” of the negotiation should be agreed by then, while Obama reiterated his commitment, despite the “challenges” ahead.