Senior negotiators on a huge transatlantic trade treaty opened new talks in Miami Monday aiming to close some differences on key issues between the United States and the European Union.
The 11th round of talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, were under new pressure to advance two weeks after Washington scored a major triumph with the agreement to set up a Pacific free-trade group with Japan, Canada and nine other countries.
But public resistance to a TTIP deal, especially from Europe, has slowed progress, amid worries that the US wants Europe to weaken its health, labor and environmental rules under the deal.
Speaking in Madrid, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact, the aim of TTIP is to remove barriers to trade and investment that hamper economic growth and job creation.
"With the passage of the TPP, it is really important for Europe now to come together now around the TTIP because this can help to elevate the rules and regulations by which we do business all across the planet," Kerry said.
"It won't hurt the environment or labor standards... But it takes away the interferences that prevent our ability to be able to grow jobs faster," he said.
Negotiations on TTIP began in July 2013, and this week's talks are "largely technical," a spokesman for the US Trade Representative, in charge of negotiations from Washington's side, said Monday.
But many of the issues are deeply sensitive to business and to citizens on both sides, and have sparked intense worries given the secrecy surrounding the talks.
Both sides want to deliver to their legislatures a fully negotiated, unalterable deal for ratification, and will not make the texts of the various issues under negotiation publicly available until a complete deal is reached.
Both the TPP and TTIP aim at broadly lowering tariffs and non-tariff barriers, a relatively small issue between the United States and Europe, where trade taxes are already very low.
But they also aim higher, at setting what the White House calls the rules for 21st century trade and investment, with special focus on digital trade and intellectual property issues, and on harmonizing regulations for global business.
A US-EU deal would tie together two giant economies that are home to some 850 million people and account for about half of global output.
Issues under discussion this week include government procurement standards that favor local businesses. US states are especially resistant to pushes to open their contracts to foreign competitors, but Europeans want fair access to these deals.
"State-level procurement in the US is very important for us," said an EU Commission official this week.
Other issues under discussion include technology-related regulations, and more tariff issues.
Put off, probably to the final rounds, will be farm issues, extremely contentious as the EU holds substantial barriers to US products and is loath to weaken their standards.