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Hogan hopeful on mini-US trade deal, agriculture hurdles remain

The European Union is hopeful of reaching a “mini” trade accord with the US in the coming weeks.

But there are still difficult issues to overcome including barriers for farm products, EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said today.

Mr Hogan made his comments at a European Parliament Ireland event in Dublin about EU trade amid global uncertainty, 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,” Commissioner Hogan said. 

“We are taking slow and small steps towards a ‘mini deal’. There is currently momentum for both sides.”

Phil Hogan, who was promoted from the role of EU farm chief in November, has made resetting strained EU-US 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.

The Commissioner 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 US 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 US 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 he said 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.

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