E.U. envoy promotes trade pact

KENNY KEMP | Gazette
European Union Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida visited Charleston Wednesday to talk about the on-going trade negotiations between the United States and Europe. Vale de Almeida said if the agreement is reached it’s a, “win-win for West Virginia.”

West Virginia — as well as the European Union and the United States as a whole — can benefit from the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership, European Union Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida said during a visit to Charleston Wednesday.

Vale de Almeida is traveling across the country meeting with local government officials, college professors and students and business communities to discuss the trade negotiations between Washington and Brussels.

“TTIP is an agreement among equals,” Vale de Almeida said during a meeting with the Gazette. “These are the two most important economic blocks in the world.”

Vale de Almeida said TTIP is unlike other trade agreements. And it’s more ambitious because of that.

The agreement aims is to reduce regulatory obstacles to trade and investment across the Atlantic, lowering tariffs and fostering more similar regulations between the U.S. and E.U.

Vale de Almeida said Europe is not competing with the U.S. on low wages, environmental standards, violating intellectual property or labor rights.

“We are on the same level,” Vale de Almeida said. “We share the same goals and values and that’s what makes this agreement a different one.”

The E.U. has 28 member countries with about 500 million consumers.

After the global recession, Vale de Almeida said the agreements are more pressing.

“In today’s global economy we are interdependent and interconnected. What happens in the U.S. has an impact on Europe and vice versa,” he said. “We need to do what is necessary to maximize our chances of coming out of all of this in a better shape. That’s the rationale for more cooperation, more common efforts between the E.U. and U.S.”

Vale de Almeida said the current situation in Ukraine gives Europe more of a reason to diversify its sources of energy.

“Energy has become a strategic weapon and is being used by some as a strategic weapon,” Vale de Almeida said. “I’m referring to Russia.”

He said working with the U.S. on exporting more American energy across the Atlantic would be a good start.

“The president was very open to the possibility of more exports from American energy to the E.U.,” Vale de Almeida said.

The ambassador met with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and his economic team about the trade efforts Wednesday stressing opportunity and common ground.

“It’s a win-win for West Virginia,” Vale de Almeida said. “The share of Europe in your market is more than double the national average of other states.”

West Virginia exported $3.2 billion worth of goods to Europe in 2012, according to the 2014 West Virginia Economic Outlook. Europe represents about a third of West Virginia’s exports and has been the top importer of West Virginia goods since surpassing North America in 2008.

He also talked to the governor about how to “upgrade the coal industry” to address environmental issues while keeping coal a source of revenue.

“Some European countries have a lot of coal like you have here,” Vale de Almeida said. “They are facing the same kind of problems.”

The ambassador urged the governor to benefit from Europe sharing best practices and new technology to move industry forward.

“The debate in Europe is over whether there is or isn’t climate change,” Vale de Almeida said. “We believe there is serious climate change happening. We believe humans are behind the problem. And we believe we need to address it in a very decisive way.”

Vale de Almeida said Europe is implementing a number of policies that help industry and producers to go to a higher level of sophistication when dealing with emissions.

He added the TTIP agreement could set gold standards around the world on issues like intellectual property rights, the role of state owned enterprises or how to deal with energy.

“We believe that our economies and countries need an ambitious deal to strengthen our position in the world and help create jobs here and in Europe.”

Reach Caitlin Cook at 304-348-5113 or caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com.

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