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European Trade Commissioner Says TTIP Talks Will Carry on Despite Brexit

The trade deal the United States and the European Union have been hashing out for the last three years was immediately called to question when news of Brexit hit, but the EU’s trade commissioner says keep calm, TTIP will carry on.

In a speech at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström said the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations are still ongoing because—at least for now—Britain is still a part of the EU.

Addressing the elephant in the room at the outset of her address, Malmström said Brexit does not legally change anything. The U.K.’s prime minister has to trigger an article that’s part of the EU treaty to start the separation process, something newly resigned Prime Minster David Cameron said he will leave to the country’s next prime minister, who is expected to take on the role in September.

“When it comes to TTIP, that means that I and my team, we are negotiating on behalf of 28 countries and that could very well be the case for another year or two or even longer,” Malmström said.

The trade commissioner recently met with United States Trade Representative Michael Froman and said the two jointly agreed that the rationale for doing TTIP “is as strong today as it was on Thursday, maybe even stronger.”

Talks are ongoing and preparations are in place for the next round of TTIP negotiations set to take place in Brussels starting July 11.

“We are committed to this trade agenda, we are negotiating with a lot of other countries as well, not only TTIP, and we will do whatever we can to make sure that we make as much progress as possible in the coming month, if possible conclude it before the end of the Obama administration,” Malmström said. “That is still the plan A and that has not changed, even if the referendum is there. And as I said, the Brits are still with us and we are negotiating with them.”

There have been concerns among the public and in politics that the trade deal might weaken the respective nations’ ability to regulate as they deem fit.

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But, according to Malmström, “Removing regulatory protection is not an aim of these negotiations. We want a system to protect investment that is secure but guarantees the freedom to regulate.”

TTIP should not change each government’s ability to provide health care or water and the like, she explained, and should protect each nation’s values for labor and environment.

Some things that are still on the agenda?

An “ambitious” outcome on market access that removes remaining tariffs in all areas. There’s also more to do in terms of trade in services, like addressing existing barriers like cross border movement of service providers. What’s more, both sides need to secure existing openness to international competition.

“The EU has the larger effort to do when it comes to guaranteeing existing openness, while the U.S. has the larger effort to make in terms of addressing existing trade barriers,” Malmström said.

Regulatory cooperation is another big issue still on the table. The commissioner said both the EU and the U.S. need to agree on common principles for good regulatory cooperation on both sides, addressing technical issues like standards and conformity assessments. She wants TTIP to help reduce the unnecessary duplication of requirements in a host of industries, textiles included.

The light at the end of the TTIP tunnel may be dim but it’s visible, according to Malmström.

“We can see what it will look like, but we still have a lot of work,” she said.

Negotiators from both countries are preparing to have text of the trade deal ready by summer break (July-August) and plans are in place to make the necessary political choices to close the deal by the end of the year.

“We will not conclude a TTIP light just to have it concluded. It has to be a good agreement,” Malmström said, adding that she believes coming to that good agreement will be possible.

“TTIP is worth the effort. It’s a positive response to the concerns on globalization that are shaking our political systems on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a way to strengthen our friendship, our alliance and our partnership,” she added. “Our people need the opportunities that this can provide.”