"We cannot exclude that it may take longer," Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters following a meeting of EU trade ministers on Wednesday (25 March).
“We have to do our best to get an agreement but we don’t want to reach an agreement just for the sake of it,” he added. “The political will is there but there is an acceptance that it may take longer”.
“We are aiming to conclude this under the Obama administration … but I cannot give you a date,” said EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who added that ratification of TTIP could get caught up in the next US presidential election cycle.
The race to replace Barack Obama will begin in earnest in autumn, when the Democratic and Republican parties begin their nomination process ahead of the presidential election in November 2016.
Trade negotiators have now concluded eight rounds of talks with a view to agreeing a transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), but were given a provisional deadline of December 2015 by EU leaders to agree a draft text.
The most thorny issue for ministers remains the investor protection mechanism known as ISDS, which allows firms to take governments to court if they discriminate against them or introduce new laws which threaten their investments.
“ISDS is a hot potato,” conceded Rinkevics. He said there are “differences in opinion” amongst ministers, but added there is no indication that member states want to open up the EU-Canada trade agreement, which includes the controversial regime.
Note EU-Digest: A European Parliamentarian when asked about the TTIP and the ISDS controversy said. "The EU must not sell its soul to the devil by agreeing to the non-transparent TTIP - regardless of the 'fantastic' stories we hear about the economic benefits of the TTIP, we only need to look at the results achieved following the NAFTA agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the US."
"That agreement, which has now been in effect 20 years, still shows little improvement in the overall economic conditions of ordinary citizens in the participating countries."
"NAFTA has, however, certainly been a bonanza for the free-wheeling, uncontrolled, multi-national corporations - we must not repeat that in these negotiations with the US."
Read more: EU-US trade pact to miss 2015 deadline