The United States and the European Union pledged Friday not to include public services privatization in their proposed trade pact, a sensitive issue on both sides of the Atlantic.
"We heard the concern that our negotiations should not require privatization of public services -- such as water utilities, education, national health care -- and that they not limit the ability of governments to regulate those services as they see fit," said chief US trade negotiator Dan Mullaney, at the end of the seventh round of talks.
"The United States is not including such provisions in this trade agreement and will not do so in these negotiations," he said at a news conference in Washington.
Launched in July 2013, the US-EU negotiations are aimed at creating the world's biggest free-trade and investment agreement. The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is seen by both sides as a means to bolster an already strong relationship while boosting economic growth and creating jobs.
But the ambitious proposal, which eliminates all tariffs on trade, among other goals, has raised an array of concerns, including generalized deregulation, notably in the agriculture sector, and in consumer protection.
Europeans have shown particular worry over whether the deal would force the region to import now-banned US beef treated with hormones and tightly limited crops and foods from genetically modified seeds.
"Our approach excludes any commitment on public services," said Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU chief negotiator, at the news conference.
Garcia Bercero, who represents the 28-nation bloc, said "nothing will be done" which could lower or endanger the protection of the environment, health, safety, consumers and data privacy.
According to the two officials, the seventh round of talks that began Monday was productive, but a long and difficult path lies ahead to reach a deal.
"In an agreement of this importance and magnitude, these proposals are in many cases long and complex and require many hours of detailed and difficult discussions and analysis," said Mullaney, who, like his European counterpart, declined to suggest a timetable for reaching agreement.