EU mulls change of tack on US trade pact

Markets Associated Press

  • Protestors hold an Anti-TTIP inflatable banner during a demonstration against international trade agreements in Brussels on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. A demonstration was held in the European Quarter on Tuesday to protest against trade and investment deals such as TTIP and CETA. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

    Protestors hold an Anti-TTIP inflatable banner during a demonstration against international trade agreements in Brussels on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. A demonstration was held in the European Quarter on Tuesday to protest against trade and investment ... deals such as TTIP and CETA. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (The Associated Press)

  • A man with a mask of United States Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a demonstration against the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA in Berlin, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Thousands of people are rallying in cities across Germany to protest against planned European Union trade deals with the United States and Canada. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

    A man with a mask of United States Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a demonstration against the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA in Berlin, ... Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Thousands of people are rallying in cities across Germany to protest against planned European Union trade deals with the United States and Canada. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber) (The Associated Press)

  • A man holds a poster during a demonstration against the TTIP and CETA trade agreements in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Thousands of people are rallying in cities across Germany to protest against planned European Union trade deals with the United States and Canada. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

    A man holds a poster during a demonstration against the TTIP and CETA trade agreements in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Thousands of people are rallying in cities across Germany to protest against planned European Union trade deals with ... the United States and Canada. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) (The Associated Press)

European Union ministers expressed pessimism Friday that the bloc can conclude a massive trade pact with the U.S. anytime soon and debated whether to change tack on the talks.

Continue Reading Below

"There is some new start or some new approach needed," Slovak Economy Minister Peter Ziga, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, told reporters ahead of informal trade talks in Bratislava on Friday.

After three years of negotiations, big differences remain over the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, with work needed in all of the 30 chapters the pact will entail.

TTIP, as the potential deal is called, is aimed at removing barriers to trade between the EU and the U.S. to boost economic growth and employment. The European Commission estimates that the pact could boost EU economic output by 119 billion euros ($133 billion) a year and the U.S. economy's by 95 billion euros ($106 billion).

Thousands of people have demonstrated against the pact in Germany and Belgium over the last week. They fear the agreement is a threat to the environment and public health, and would give more power to big multinational companies.

Still, the Europeans want to seal a deal on TTIP before President Barack Obama leaves office in January. Looming elections in France and Germany are also influencing the negotiations.

Continue Reading Below

In contrast, good progress has been made on the trade deal with Canada, known as CETA, with some nations due just to add clarifying statements to the text of the agreement.

"The Americans have not been willing to make offers the way Canada has so it's guaranteed there will be no agreement this year," said German Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

"If we do restart the negotiations, we'll have to see who the next American president is," he said. Should things get moving again, he added, the talks might require "a modified (negotiating) mandate or a different attitude."

Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders said "we only have a small chance of success unless the United States starts to give a bit of ground."

Even the EU's often-upbeat Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, said that "the likelihood of a quick conclusion is of course becoming smaller and smaller."