WASHINGTON — The U.S. government shutdown has dealt a temporary setback to President Obama’s trade agenda.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman informed European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht on Friday that the U.S. would have to pull out of the second round of Trans-Atlantic trade talks, slated to begin in Brussels on Monday, because of the government shutdown in Washington.
According to a USTR readout of the call between the two trade chiefs, Froman said that “financial and staffing constraints related to the shutdown make it impossible to send a full team of negotiators; USTR will work with the [European] Commission to craft an alternative work plan that can begin once the U.S. government shutdown ends.”
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The EU delegation in Washington said in a statement that De Gucht was informed by Froman that the U.S. is unable to send a “sufficient number of officials” from USTR and other government agencies “to maintain a meaningful schedule of negotiating group meetings” for the second round of talks.
The meetings in Brussels “will not take place as foreseen,” the EU said.
“We are expecting from the U.S. side information on when and how further occasions for engagement can be scheduled,” the EU delegation added.
“The cancellation of next week’s negotiation round in Brussels is clearly unfortunate but let me underline that it in no way distracts us from our overall aim of achieving an ambitious trade and investment deal between Europe and the U.S which will bring real economic benefit to people on both sides of the Atlantic,” De Gucht said.
Julia Hughes, president at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said the cancellation sends a message to U.S. trading partners about the dysfunctional political system.
“It sends the message…that if we can’t keep the government open, then we are really not very likely to reach bipartisan agreement on trade deals any time soon,” Hughes said.
The cancellation of the second round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) talks, as the U.S.-EU trade negotiations have been dubbed, came on the heels of Obama’s cancellation of a trip to Asia next week.
The White House said late Thursday night that Obama will not be able to attend economic and trade summits in Bali, Indonesia and Brunei, because of the ongoing stalemate in Congress over government funding, which forced the shutdown.
“This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “The President looks forward to continuing his work with our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific and to returning to the region at a later date.”
Secretary of State John Kerry will now lead the U.S. delegation on the previously scheduled four-country Asian trip, which includes an APEC meeting in Bali, an East Asia summit in Brunei and stops in Malaysia and the Philippines.