WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The European Union’s top trade official said on Wednesday that she is still aiming to complete negotiations for a sweeping free trade deal with the United States this year, despite Britain’s vote last week to leave the 28-nation bloc.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said her team is pressing ahead with talks over the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and is still negotiating on behalf of Britain as a member state, a condition that will continue for perhaps more than two years as London negotiates an exit.
“We will do whatever we can to make sure that we make as much progress as possible in the coming month, and, if possible, conclude it before the Obama administration leaves office,” Malmstrom said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington. “That is still the ‘Plan A’ and that has not changed even if the (British) referendum is there.”
Trade experts have said that Britain’s looming departure from the EU will dash hopes for completing TTIP in the final months of Obama’s term, cutting out Europe’s second-largest economy and diverting attention and political capital to sorting out the UK-EU relationship.
But Malmstrom insisted that the TTIP deal would survive the Brexit decision. She met on Tuesday with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in Washington to make preparations for the 14th round of TTIP negotiations in Brussels starting July 11.
“There are a lot of uncertainties related to Brexit. We can’t answer them now we will have to wait until we see a clearer picture,” she said. “But for now and for the immediate future, the United Kingdom is a member of the European Union, and we negotiate this on behalf of all 28 members.”
EU prime ministers and heads of state on Tuesday affirmed that the bloc’s trade agenda, which includes TTIP and a number of other prospective trade deals, would continue.
She said EU negotiators who are British citizens will continue to participate in the talks, adding, “They do not work for the UK, they work for the European Union and they will stay.”
Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Alan Crosby