EU-U.S. trade deal on course for this year - negotiators

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU and U.S. negotiators seeking a transatlantic free trade agreement expressed cautious optimism on Friday that they could resolve most issues by July, which could lead to a conclusion of a deal by the end of the year.

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The two sides are trying to agree on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which supporters say could boost each economy by some $100 billion at a time of slowing growth in China and emerging markets.

“We now have proposed texts in the vast majority of the negotiating areas... we are well into the nitty gritty of the negotiating process,” Dan Mullaney, chief U.S. negotiator, told a news conference at the end of a 12th round of talks.

Mullaney said the common goal was to narrow down differences to the most sensitive issues by July and resolve them in the second half of the year.

After more than two years of talks, both sides are aiming to clinch a deal this year before Barack Obama’s term as U.S. president ends next January. A new U.S. leader with different priorities could cause a lengthy delay.

“We must ensure that we pick up the pace and give the necessary impulse to get this deal right,” chief EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said.

The partners have already exchanged offers that would cut tariffs on 97 percent of goods, but TTIP is designed to go beyond traditional tariff-cutting, with agreement on regulation and rules that would be a standard for others to follow.

In the 12th round in Brussels, negotiators looked to agree on regulation in nine areas - automotive, chemicals, cosmetics, engineering, IT, medical devices, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and textiles.

This could include common standards for car safety or mutually recognizing approvals of pharmaceutical plants.

The two sides intend to exchange offers on public procurement, a key EU demand, on Monday. Two further formal trade negotiating rounds are planned for April and July.

Earlier in the week, industry associations, academics and campaign groups gave a series of presentations to negotiators, highlighting the challenges they face.

European businesses want the United States to overturn rules dictating that the U.S. military buy clothing only from American producers or limiting imports of fresh dairy products.

Nearly 300 lobby groups signed a declaration urging negotiators to exclude planned provisions allowing companies to sue states if their interests have been threatened. They say this would undermine the rights of governments to set environmental and health policies.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Mark Heinrich