Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about U.S. surveillance have not affected negotiations with Asia or Europe on free trade agreements, a senior administration official said Tuesday.
“Clearly there are issues of concern but those are being addressed through various channels,” the official told reporters. “The European leaders have asked that the [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] and Snowden be discussed on separate tracks and that’s how we’re proceeding.”
European officials are in Washington this week for the third round of TTIP talks. When Snowden’s revelations of U.S. spying on European leaders first emerged in July, European Union leaders said the trade deal could be at risk. They’ve since backed off that threat. The official said this week’s talks are focused on identifying regulatory and standards issues — such as varying safety criteria for manufacturing cars, for example — and areas of disagreement.
The official said that Snowden has also come up in talks with the 12 Asian countries in the final rounds of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, especially after WikiLeaks published what it said was a draft agreement. The TPP already includes provisions expanding digital commerce and the issues of privacy and snooping have been raised in that context, the official said. “The negotiations have continued apace,” the official said. “People are keenly aware of the legitimate issue of privacy. That’s always been on the agenda.”
TPP was supposed to have concluded by the end of this year, but the official said negotiations will continue into the spring, calling into question whether the deal could be ratified this year before Congress hits campaign mode for the 2014 midterm elections. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Asia in April.
Combined, the two trade deals would open up U.S. markets to nearly 70 percent of the world. But first Congress must approve early next year Trade Promotion Authority for Obama. Every president since 1974 has been granted this ability to negotiation free trade agreements — the Obama administration has been negotiating both agreements without TPA, but keeping Congress informed — but Congress has not granted a new authorization since 2002. The administration has met with more than 200 members in a push to educate them on the importance of TPA.