A last-gasp push to seal a landmark free trade deal between the European Union and the US before the end of the Obama administration has failed, EU ministers agreed today.
"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 holds the EU's current six-month rotating presidency.
The highly ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would create the world's biggest market of 850m 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, (that) 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 Slovak capital.
TTIP was supposed to have been concluded before Barack Obama left office in January, however mounting opposition on both sides has made that increasingly unlikely.
Both presidential candidates from the main parties in the US, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have voiced varying degrees of hostility to the deal, while elections on this side of the Atlantic has highlighted similar concerns in some member states, meanwhile Britain's vote to leave the European Union has also made a deal more difficult
Last month the EU’s executive said it had a unanimous mandate from the bloc's 28 members to finalise negotiations on a free trade deal with the US.
Three years of negotiations have failed to resolve multiple differences, including over food and environmental safety, with critics saying the pact would hand too much power to big multinationals at the expense of consumers and workers.
Backers of a sweeping US-EU free trade deal see it bringing economic gains on both sides of the Atlantic.
EU trade ministers have been discussing the issue at a meeting in Bratislava this week.
Britain's June vote to leave the EU has further clouded the picture, though the EU Commission has insisted Brussels was still negotiating on behalf of all 28 members of the bloc, including the UK.