Official: EU trade negotiations to go on despite Brexit

WASHINGTON – The European Union and the United States will continue negotiating a major free trade deal, despite Britain’s decision to leave the EU, Europe’s top trade official said Wednesday.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said at a think-tank event that until Britain formally begins a process of withdrawing from the bloc, negotiations will proceed on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, on behalf of all its 28 members.

“Sooner or later we will have to take some decisions when we see which way the UK is going, but for the moment it is there,” Malmstrom said at the Atlantic Council. “The U.S. and the EU have all the reasons in the world to facilitate trade between us and that hasn’t changed. So yes, TTIP will survive Brexit.”

Britons shocked the world last week by voting to exit from the European Union, and EU leaders are now trying to chart a path forward. With Britain also roiled by its decision, an official procedure on leaving the bloc likely with not be initiated for at least several months.

“There are a lot of uncertainties related to Brexit. We cannot answer them now and we will have to wait until we see a more clear picture of that,” Malmstrom added.

But an influential U.S. labour leader said he was skeptical about TTIP. Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, said the agreement seems aimed at lowering, not improving standards. The deal intends to harmonize safety, labour, manufacturing and other standards across the world’s two largest economies.

“All the rules that you are setting up that I’ve seen, none of them have been tools to increase the lower standards. They’ve all been tools that can be used to decrease the existing standards down, and so we are a little skeptical,” Trumka said at the event.

He also criticized a key component of the deal — special investment courts that would rule in disputes between governments and companies that feel they face undue legal hurdles to their business. Critics say such courts could place the interests of corporations above those of democratically elected governments.

Trumka questioned Malstrom’s assessment that the TTIP, which has been in the making for three years, could be concluded and take effect before the end President Barack Obama’s presidency.

“It’s a complicated subject and you make it more complicated by pretending that there will be an agreement before the end of the year because I don’t see any likelihood at all of that happening,” Trumka said.