Irishman set to lead EU trade talks with UK, US

BRUSSELS — The incoming president of the European Union's powerful executive arm on Tuesday nominated Irishman Phil Hogan to lead future EU trade talks, which could put him in charge of negotiations with Britain after Brexit.

"I think the trade commissioner, who will have to deal with the future trade agreement we will be negotiating (with Britain), is an excellent choice," European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen told reporters as she unveiled her new team of policy commissioners.

"He is known as a hard and a fair negotiator," she said.

The commission negotiates trade agreements with other countries and blocs on behalf of the 28 EU member countries. Once Britain leaves — Brexit is currently scheduled for Oct. 31 — London would face the long and arduous task of drawing up new trade relations with its European partners.

Hogan, whose country is likely to be hit hard economically by Brexit, will join forces with former Brexit deputy negotiator Sabine Weyand, who was in June appointed head of the commission's trade directorate.

Hogan is currently serving as agriculture commissioner.

In a tweet after the announcement, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: "Phil Hogan's appointment as EU Trade Commissioner is a very positive development for Ireland. We sought a major economic brief in the new European Commission, and I am very satisfied that we have secured it."

Von der Leyen's new team is due to take up their jobs on Nov. 1, once they have been vetted by the European Parliament.

Hogan will also lead trade talks with the United States amid deep tensions over President Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on the Europeans.

Trump administration officials have accused the current European commission team of dragging its feet in talks on a new, limited, trade agreement. But the EU team, led by Cecilia Malmstrom, insists the ball is the U.S. court.

Trump has also been angered by the EU's aggressive moves to crack down on market abuse by major companies, particularly U.S. tech companies, that have led to billions of dollars in fines on the likes of Google and Microsoft. But the current competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, is set to retain her portfolio — and receive extra clout in a promotion that would see her become a commission Executive Vice-President.

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