Members of the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade (INTA) generally support the opening of negotiations with the United States on a free trade agreement but most find that there are major differences between the European Union and the United States and that the public may be very critical. During a debate on the subject, on 22 February, they warned Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who will conduct the negotiations, that they would have to result in an agreement acceptable to the EU public.
Eric van Puyvelde, Europolitics, 22.01.2013 "We were all very happy when President Obama announced the will to start transatlantic free trade negotiations" (see Europolitics 4586), said Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl (EPP, Germany) as the debate opened. Her remarks were echoed by Marietje Schaake (ALDE, Netherlands), who agreed that "this is a historic moment" and that the assembly shares "the political will to find a mutually beneficial and fair deal". Mentioning the problems that might come up with this transatlantic trade and investment partnership, Vital Moreira (S&D, Portugal), chair of the INTA committee and in charge of relations with the United States, stated that the greatest stumbling block would be animal and plant health standards. He wonders whether the EU would have to give up its traditional precautionary approach in that area. Other MEPs voiced concerns about genetically modified crops and hormones in beef. Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) said the EU's geographical indication system would have to be protected. Paul Murphy (GUE-NGL, Ireland) and Franziska Keller (Greens-EFA, Germany) asked whether Parliament's positions on intellectual property rights and data protection would be respected and how the EP would be involved in the negotiating process. Several MEPs are concerned about seeing the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)" sneak in through the back door". In a resolution adopted on 23 October 2012, Parliament asked that negotiations on a possible trade agreement with the United States be opened in early 2013. They highlighted the huge potential for growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, but also already pointed out that the EU's interests would have to be protected, particularly in the agricultural sector. The European Commission plans to submit a negotiating brief to the Council in March. A unanimous decision in Council is required to start the talks. The Council is expected to come to a decision in mid-June. The negotiations should probably take at least two years and the European Parliament will have to approve the agreement.