(Bloomberg) -- As the U.S. and European Union gear up for free-trade talks, disagreement over what will be negotiated could sink the effort.
The split reflects competing claims about what exactly was agreed last July at a White House meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
U.S. officials say a pledge by the two leaders on July 25 to lower trans-Atlantic trade barriers extends to agriculture. The EU insists the political pact is limited to industrial goods (except for a European vow to buy more American soybeans -- something the market was already doing).
“It said very clearly, without doubt -- and I was in the room where it happened so I know this -- that agriculture would not be in,” European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters on Friday in Brussels after presenting a blueprint for a trans-Atlantic deal that would cut tariffs on industrial goods.
That contrasts with the view of U.S. envoy to the EU Gordon Sondland, who said two months ago: “I had the advantage -- or disadvantage -- of standing in the room when this was discussed on July 25 at the White House. Agriculture was always part of the discussion.”
To gloss over the mismatch in expectations, Juncker’s commission dispensed with some of the EU formalities regarding trade-negotiation mandates. Malmstrom largely skipped the task of working out with her U.S. counterpart the precise scope of any deal to be sought, fast-forwarding straight to the request for EU governments to approve the start of talks.
The EU is determined to show the notoriously impatient Trump that progress is being made in enacting the July agreement, which put on hold a much-feared U.S. threat to hit European cars and auto parts with tariffs based on national-security grounds.
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