The European Commission has vowed to make negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) more transparent.
Over the coming days, the commission will allow all MEPs to access the negotiating texts and will publish the EU's negotiating proposals to the general public.
Speaking after her first meeting with the Foreign Affairs Council as Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström said that "if we want to have an agreement, we must open up to a broader extent".
She was speaking alongside Carlo Calenda, the council chair and deputy minister for economic development of Italy, who warned that if an agreement is not secured in the coming year, then it may have to wait until 2018 – at which point Europe's negotiating position will be weaker.
It's likely that if TTIP is not signed by the beginning of 2016, it will have to wait until after the US elections. By that stage, the US is more likely to have agreed on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP – its 12-nation free trade agreement with Asian Pacific nations). This, said Calenda, is likely to strengthen the US hand. By this date, the US will also be running a greater energy surplus, further bolstering its economy.
"They are closer because they started before [TPP negotiations]. There's a space of opportunity to close the deal, define contents, then move to legal scrubbing," Calenda said.
"If [the deal is not closed by 2016] we have a problem in Europe: not only in Europe but also in the US. This is an answer to a geopolitical threat. We should have much more commitment, both of us, in leading the negotiations.
"If we can get more commitments from both sides the deadline is possible. The consequence of missing the deadlines again are serious," he added.
The council's conclusions on TTIP also mentioned the need for greater transparency.
"The council underlines the importance to better communicate the scope and the benefits of the agreement and to enhance transparency and dialogue with civil society in order to highlight the benefits for European citizens and the opportunities it would create for EU companies, in particular small and medium sized businesses," it reads.
The move has been welcomed by those who had lobbied for greater openness, but some have questioned the extent to which the commission will go.
"It's not clear exactly how far the Commission are going to go. It says basically what she said in her hearing – access to the reading room and documents. That's welcome but there are limits. If we're still bound by confidentiality it means we can't discuss with our constituents," said Jude Kirton Darling, Labour Party MEP for North-West England.
Malmström also met with the US Trade Representative Michael Froman for the first time in Brussels this morning and said that while discussions were introductory, they were "positive and constructive". The pair will reconvene in Washington DC on 9 December, with the next round of TTIP negotiations to take place in Brussels in February.