Report

U.S., EU: Full Speed Ahead with Transatlantic Trade Deal, Despite Brexit

The White House rules out moving a bilateral trade deal with Britain to the front of the line.

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 10:  Visitors chat in the public information representation of the European Commission near a sign promoting the TTIP free trade agreement between the U.S. and the European Union on July 10, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. TTIP, which is still being negotiated by the two sides, has come under a hail of popular criticism in Germany.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 10: Visitors chat in the public information representation of the European Commission near a sign promoting the TTIP free trade agreement between the U.S. and the European Union on July 10, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. TTIP, which is still being negotiated by the two sides, has come under a hail of popular criticism in Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Top U.S. and European officials vowed to press ahead with a massive transatlantic free trade deal on Monday despite Britain’s historic vote last week to exit the European Union. In making the pledge, a White House spokesman said that the United States would not prioritize a bilateral trade deal with Britain ahead of a Europe-wide pact — suggesting that London would have to get in back of the line.

“We are quite far along in the process with the EU and if we have to start that with the U.K. it’s just going to be from a different starting point,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters. “We intend to continue working with the EU to conclude negotiations as soon as feasible.”

The top European Union official in Washington echoed that position on Monday saying “the EU is equally determined to conclude the deal with the United States.”

“This will not have any immediate impact,” EU Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan told Foreign Policy in an interview.

The Obama administration’s decision to put a higher priority on the continental pact known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, defies calls from some Republicans in Congress who have urged President Barack Obama to streamline a deal with Britain as London stocks suffer a massive selloff.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has repeatedly said that Britain should be at the “front of the line for a free trade deal with America, not at the back.”

“There is a vast amount of trade, commerce and investment between our two nations,” Cruz said in a column in the Times of London. Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Jeff Sessions have also criticized Obama’s previous suggestion that Britain would have to get “in the back of the queue” on trade if it leaves the EU. On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan took a less critical position, saying the U.S. should simply work in “parallel” with Britain on a trade deal as it works toward a separate Europe-wide deal. 

Despite the intention of both Washington and Brussels to move forward with TTIP, experts have said the shocking referendum in Britain on Thursday will almost certainly delay the long-stalled trade pact, which already faced repeated setbacks due to resistance to the deal by officials in France and Germany.

In recent months, negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic have been hesitant to put their best proposals on the table given the uncertainty caused by the U.S. elections in November and forthcoming leadership elections in France and Germany in 2017. Analysts have said the Brexit vote will further hobble negotiations as EU officials will be consumed with negotiating the future terms of trade with London.

But O’Sullivan rejected the notion that EU negotiators would be preoccupied, saying a Brexit “will take up to two years and it is after that that you begin negotiating a new [trade] arrangement that will prevail.”

“In the meantime, we continue all our trade negotiations with important partners such as the U.S., India and Japan,” he said.

The three-year-old TTIP negotiations have been plagued by major disagreements on agriculture — in particular, European opposition to altering food safety regulations that ban American beef raised with hormones or location-based naming rules that dictate what can and can’t be called feta or Asiago cheese, for example. Europeans are also looking for access to America’s aviation sector while the Americans want to open up Europe’s healthcare and education sectors, among other areas.

“As far as TTIP is concerned, the negotiations will continue,” said O’Sullivan.

This post has been updated. 

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John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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