By Conor Humphries and Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) – The European Union is hopeful of reaching a “mini” trade accord with the United States United in the coming weeks, but there are still difficult issues to overcome including barriers for farm products, EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said on Friday.
Hogan was speaking ahead of a visit to Washington on March 16-17 that could prove crucial in staving off a U.S. threat of car tariffs.
“Hopefully we can reach some mini deal at least, or some understandings in the coming weeks,” Hogan told reporters in Dublin.
“We are taking slow and small steps towards a ‘mini deal’,” he said in a speech to business leaders. “There is currently momentum for both sides,” he added.
Hogan, who was promoted from the role of EU farm chief in November, has made resetting strained EU-U.S. relations a top priority. He said the main issues were trade, technology and energy and that there could be some movement on removing barriers to agricultural trade.
“There is a long list on both sides that have been outstanding for many, many years,” he added. “There is no scientific basis for any of these impediments to agricultural trade.”
However, he said that the EU would not change food safety regulations and would not ask for any changes from Washington that required Congressional approval.
Hogan said the discussions on ‘conformity assessment’, to make it easier for companies to show their products meet the standards of either market, had slowed in recent months, but he believed the United States still wanted a deal on this.
During Hogan’s visit to Washington he will give a speech on his ideas for reform of the World Trade Organization. No meeting with U.S counterpart Robert Lighthizer is planned for now.
“I am hopeful that this speech can act as a catalyst for further action and global collaboration, particularly across the Atlantic,” he said. The Geneva-based trade body needed a “profound overhaul” and “not just tweaking at the margins”.
The European Union, he said, agreed with many of Washington’s criticisms of the WTO, such as on the WTO’s appeals process, but it was now time to find common ground. Washington has blocked the appointment of trade judges, depriving the WTO of its ability to rule in disputes.
Hogan will also travel to Canada on May 18 for a meeting of the “Ottawa Group” of fellow WTO members, including Australia, Brazil and Japan, seeking to craft consensus on WTO reform.
(Reporting by Conor Humphries and Padraic Halpin; Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Peter Graff)