European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht today (Feb. 21) told the European Parliament's International Trade Committee he hopes the U.S. and the EU can formally announce the launch of their bilateral trade negotiations at the two countries' bilateral summit in June.
"It should be possible to announce the negotiations at the EU-U.S. summit that will take place around mid-June," De Gucht said. "That's the scheme we have in mind." The bilateral summit will follow the June 17-18 meeting of G-8 leaders in Ireland.
The plan is for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and President Obama to announce together that both sides have finished the procedures necessary to start negotiations and have received the official mandate, sources said.
Under this timetable, the Obama administration would have to formally notify Congress of its intent to enter into the negotiations by mid-March, which would trigger a 90-day layover in Congress. The congressional notification on the U.S. side is unlikely to be very specific and will likely be akin to the general terms contained in the final report of the High-Level Working Group (HLWG), sources said.
One informed source said that the U.S. and the EU are planning to proceed largely in parallel with their necessary domestic procedures to begin free trade negotiations, with the hope of having a formal negotiating session on Sept. 1.
De Gucht told the INTA that he will introduce the draft negotiating mandate to the member states' Council of Ministers in early March in the hope of having it approved by the mid-June meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council that will bring together trade ministers.
"Ideally it would be earlier … but that is the deadline that we have in mind," De Gucht said. He said that it "normally" takes three months to get a mandate approved.
But observers disagree on whether this is too ambitious a schedule or whether it can be achieved. One EU official said whether these deadlines can be met depends on how much detail will be contained in the negotiating mandate. The more detailed the mandate is, the longer it will take to get member state approval, the official said.
De Gucht said that his timetable does not mean the two sides "are not yet working on the technical preparation of all this." He said that there have been preparations during the drafting of the HLWG report because there are a number of technical issues that have to be resolved. "How are you going to attack this vast problem of norms and standards, of regulatory approximation, and how can we have novel approaches for that?" he said.
In further preparation of the negotiations, U.S. and EU officials are expected to meet in the coming weeks, most likely in Brussels to lay the groundwork, sources said.