US postpones trade negotiations with EU due to shutdown
Leaders hope to create jobs, eliminate tariffs and reduce regulatory barriers to trade
US president Barack Obama cancelled plans to attend two economic summits in Asia next week, a setback for his top foreign policy goal, as he remains in Washington to seek an end to the partial government shutdown. Photograph: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg
The United States is postponing negotiations for a landmark free trade deal with the European Union because of a partial shutdown of the US government, the Obama administration said yesterday.
US trade representative Michael Froman called EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht to say that US officials could not travel to Brussels next week for talks due to the shutdown, Mr Froman’s office, known as the USTR, said in a statement.
Whole swaths of America’s federal government have been shut down since Tuesday morning due to an impasse in Congress over funding for the new fiscal year.
“USTR will work with the (European) Commission to craft an alternative work plan that can begin once the US government shutdown ends,” the agency said.
Washington and the EU were due to hold a second round of negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would be the world’s biggest free-trade deal.
The United States and the EU already are the world’s largest trade and investment partners but are struggling with high unemployment, particularly in Europe.
They hope to create new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic by striking a deal to eliminate remaining tariffs on their goods and to reduce regulatory barriers to trade.
Mr De Gucht said in a statement that the cancellation of the meetings “in no way distracts us from our overall aim of achieving an ambitious trade and investment deal.”
’Moment of politics’
US secretary of state John Kerry has urged Congress to end the partial government shutdown and think “long and hard” about the message the US sends the world when “we can’t get our own act together”.
Mr Kerry is in Bali for an economic summit of Asian leaders. Mr Obama had planned to attend but cancelled his travel plans to remain in Washington and deal with the shutdown, now into its fifth day. Mr Kerry is now heading the US delegation in the talks.
Mr Kerry said that America’s “friends and foes” around the world should not mistake the government shutdown as anything other than a “moment of politics”.
“When we get this moment of political silliness behind us we will get back on a track the world will respect and want to be part of,” he said at a news conference.
He called on recalcitrant lawmakers to “end it now, end it today”.
Mr Kerry vowed that the United States would continue to fulfil its responsibilities during the partial shutdown that has crippled large parts of the federal government and locked thousands of government employees out of their offices.
“To all of our friends and foes around the world: Do not mistake this momentary episode in American politics for anything less than a moment of politics or anything more than a moment of politics,” Mr Kerry said.
But he did note that security assistance to critical allies like Israel may be affected and that the treasury department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees sanctions on rogue countries like Iran, had been forced to temporarily lay off nearly all of its staff.
He stressed that he believed the shutdown would not be long term and rejected the notion that the shutdown and Mr Obama’s cancellation of his summit trip was a sign of “weakness”.
“I don’t believe that anyone believes that this is a moment of weakness,” Mr Kerry said. “There isn’t one leader here who wouldn’t make the same decision if they had to deal with a domestic challenge.”