The Irish Independent reports that the first round of negotiations on a landmark trade deal between the EU and the US could begin this summer after a successful meeting of European trade ministers yesterday.
EU trade ministers moved closer to agreeing a mandate for negotiations with the US at an informal meeting in Dublin.
The progress means the EU remains on course to sign off on its platform for talks on June 14. That would open the way for formal talks to begin a month later.
In a statement after the Dublin meetings had concluded, Trade Minister Richard Bruton, who chaired the council of trade ministers' meeting as part of the Irish presidency, said the EU was "closer to reaching a common position" required to start negotiations.
"We had a very broad-based discussion on trade agreement, which would go well beyond agreements of the past. It would be a dynamic and living agreement rather than just having it agreed and then leaving it at that.
"There is a great appetite to complete the mandate by June 14, when a formal decision at council will be made," he added.
Agreeing a mandate for negotiations would open the way to talks beginning as soon as July, according to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who later told the US embassy that the talks were a "key focus" of the Irish presidency of the EU.
Significantly, Michael Froman, who is US President Barack Obama's national security adviser for economic affairs and the "go-to" person for the trade talks, attended the ministers' meeting.
Since Mr Obama highlighted willingness for an agreement earlier this year, the market has been looking forward to negotiations to begin.
Studies indicate that EU exports to the US would increase by 28pc, or €187bn, each year as a result of the increased trade from a new EU-US Trade Agreement.
A deal between the two economic blocs would also increase global trade, producing an additional 6pc growth in exports for the EU. Altogether, the total benefit to the EU is forecast at €220bn. In Ireland, that would translate to about €800m more in GDP and 4,000 jobs.
EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said a trade agreement was necessary despite the already close ties between the two regions.
"The door is only half-open. There are still tariffs on both sides that are almost too effective, and [hamper trade]," he said.
Any talks will take time, however. Many countries in Europe and the US have concerns about an agreement.
France, in particular, is concerned about protecting regional variations, such as types of cheese.
The US has previously indicated absolute opposition to protections for "regionality". "We should be under no illusions that finding a deal will be easy. We will have to allay fears about co-operating, it would be unrealistic to expect otherwise," said Mr De Gucht.
Closer to home the farming industry has made plain its concerns about the trade agreement and the prospect of cheaply produced US beef flooding the protected EU market. However, Mr Bruton said the trade talks represent a chance for Irish beef to re-enter the US market for the first time since the BSE crisis in the early 90s.
"There are opportunities as well as threats in any trade talks," he said.
The Irish Independent also reports that two barristers were paid almost €800,000 between them last year in fees and costs linked to NAMA. A further 16 shared about €200,000 as figures show the State's toxic loans agency was hit with a bill of about €20m in legal fees in 2012.
And around €17.7m of this was incurred by the bad bank on behalf of its borrowers. The agency hopes the figure can be clawed back.
Senior counsels Cian Ferriter and Paul Sreenan topped the list, bringing in €375,000 and €396,000 respectively.
McCann Fitzgerald was among the best-paid law firms, raking in about €2m, while Arthur Cox took in around €1.6m, followed by A&L Goodbody which earned €1.57m.
Legal fees paid directly by the bad bank last year totalled €3.28m in relation to the management of distressed loans.
But it also paid further legal fees of €18.4m which the agency hopes to be able to recoup.
These include €0.68m in due diligence expenses connected with taking on the bad loans from the banks. The money was recovered by knocking the figure off the price for taking on the loans.
But €17.7m was incurred by NAMA on behalf of NAMA borrowers who couldn't pay themselves, according to a response from a parliamentary question by Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty.
"To the extent the borrower is not in a position to repay those costs, NAMA will add these costs to the borrower's debt obligations to NAMA," the response, from Finance Minister Michael Noonan, states.
"Such costs have been taken as an impairment charge as necessary in NAMA's financial statements."
Mr Ferriter and Mr Sreenan were paid €129,000 and €169,000 respectively by NAMA, while the agency assumed €246,000 and €227,000 that were due to the two barristers from NAMA borrowers. The agency also assumed €22,000 paid to Michael McDowell SC.
NAMA's direct legal costs of €3.28m includes a payment of €34,000 to Private Security (Ireland) Ltd and law firms in the UK, Portugal, Luxembourg, Holland, Singapore, the Channel Islands and Jersey.
In its forward-looking statement for this year, published in October, NAMA said that it intends to cut operating costs by 16pc to €140m, including by reducing its legal expenses to a budget of €13m.
The Irish Times reports that mortgage debt forgiveness will have to be a central plank of the banks’ approach
to dealing with borrowers with unsustainable levels of debt, Minister for
Justice Alan Shatter said yesterday.
Mr Shatter said that while banks could not be compelled to act in a certain way
when dealing with genuinely distressed borrowers, he said that he fully expected
them to use various models of debt forgiveness rather than take on the costs and
difficulties of repossessing homes. He said in some cases “you can only bring
about a sustainable solution if a portion of the debt is written off” and he
warned the banks the Government would be “keeping a watching brief on the
approach” they took to make sure they “fully engage with borrowers”.
The new service has taken the decision to exclude rent or mortgage payments and
childcare costs from its list of set costs as these can vary depending on
circumstances. It said personal insolvency practitioners would look at such
costs on a case-by-case basis.
The Irish Times also reports that
local authorities are preparing to hand over a database to the Revenue
Commissioners that will help identify almost 400,000 households who have yet to
pay the household charge.
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan thanked those who paid the charge
despite having a “tough time of it”.
The Irish Examiner reports that up to 100 receiverships initiated by Bank of Scotland Ireland could be struck down by the courts following a High Court ruling.The judgment in The Belohn Ltd versus Bank of Scotland Plc hinged on the bank’s failure to comply with its own internal practices that it inherited when it bought ICC Bank.
The case saw Sean Foley and wife Sherry Yan overturn Bank of Scotland’s application to place their pub, Foley’s on Merrion St, Dublin, into receivership.
Their counsels Ross Maguire and Jennifer Goode argued that under the legislation, property loans from ICC could only be enforced if a seal was placed on the deed of the appointment of a receiver, by the bank, something that Bank of Scotland failed to do.
Mr Justice Paul Gilligan ruled that a receiver can only be appointed in line with the terms of the loan agreement.
“Since a receiver’s authority is derived from the instrument under which he is appointed, an appointment is not valid unless it is made in accordance with the terms of that instrument. This principle has been recognised by the leading commentators in this area and accepted and applied by the courts throughout the Common Law world.”
Yesterday, Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan confirmed the appointment of the examiner in the High Court following the overturning of the receivership.
Insolvency accountant Seamus Sutcliffe, of Lansdowne Francs and Co, said that the ruling has possible wide-reaching consequences for other businesses that Bank of Scotland has moved against.
“I suppose there are about 15 or 20 cases per annum where a receiver has been appointed by the bank using ICC debentures.
“In addition, there have also been a significant number of fixed-charge receivers appointed. In total, there are probably about 100 cases,” he said.
Mr Sutcliffe said that it is clear from Mr Justice Gilligan’s judgment that where the bank failed to apply its seal, which it did not do as a matter of policy, that receiverships may be overturned.
Bank of Scotland has refused to comment about the implication that the case has on the appointment of receivers in Ireland.
Mr Sutcliffe said that receivership law is still a relatively new area of law in Ireland and that instead of sitting down with business owners, receivers were coming in and selling businesses on for a fraction of their worth.
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