U.S. President Barack Obama reviews honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Vientiane, Laos on Tuesday. Picture: REUTERS/JORGE SILVA
U.S. President Barack Obama reviews honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Vientiane, Laos. Picture: REUTERS/JORGE SILVA

BRATISLAVA — A last-gasp push to seal a landmark free trade deal between the EU and the US before the end of Barack Obama’s presidency has failed, EU ministers agreed on Friday.

"It is not realistic to reach the final agreement by the end of the Obama administration," said Peter Ziga, the trade minister of Slovakia which currently holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.

The decision puts the fate of the trade deal on the US side in the hands of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, who are both running their presidential campaigns on antitrade-deal platforms.

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The highly ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would create the world’s biggest market of 850-million consumers, stretching from Hawaii to Lithuania.

But with talks dragging on since 2013, opposition to the deal in Europe has grown, most dangerously in key member states France and Germany amid fears that TTIP will undermine European standards on health and the environment.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, who leads the talks with the US, said it takes five or six months for a new American administration to be fully in place, and that effectively puts the negotiations on pause.

"When we can restart, (it) is a bit too early to speculate until we know what the administration would look like," she said after EU trade ministers met in the Slovakian capital.

AFP