25 March 2014

TTIP: nothing new yet on this transatlantic front

A TTIP that would improve standards would be welcome. Unfortunately, that is not what has been offered so far.

Reinhard Bütikofer MEP, European Green/EFA Group

Four negotiation rounds have been concluded between the US and the EU on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the project is not going well. Or, maybe, we should say it is going as it could have been expected with just a little more foresight on the part of the negotiators. Look what we have: A lack of transparency, disregard for many social stakeholder views and an obvious predominance of narrow and selfish corporate interests; how could one expect this to go down well once it starts to arouse public attention?

The European Commission prides itself to be more transparent on TTIP than it has ever been on any trade negotiation. That may even be the case, but it provides no consolation. I attended the debriefing that was offered to the industrial policy and energy committee (ITRE) in camera. EP-members present were able to ask all their questions. Then the representatives of the Council and Commission gave a lot of vague and evasive answers, or just forgot to give an answer when the question was too critical. Even when they were pushed, they remained completely unwilling to at least hint at difficulties that had arisen in the negotiations. To put it cynically: we were asked to pretend expecting real answers and they pretended giving them. In fact I learned more about the content of the negotiations when I happened to bump into two industrials lobbyists that had obviously had a real debrief and were willing to share some of the insights with me. So, notwithstanding the EU-Commission protestation to the opposite, cards are still stacked and any meaningful level of transparency remains completely illusive.

Greens have long been suspicious as to how much the Commission would be willing and capable of standing up in defence of well-established and necessary environmental and consumer standards, health and labour rights, or data protection and agricultural regulations. More recently, however, I increasingly wonder whether the Commission will be at all prepared to resist the US-side´s strong arming tactics.

Michael Froman, the US-Trade Representative, who is in charge of the TTIP endeavour, went out of his way several times attacking obvious European interests with very tough language. He for instance lambasted the EU over the development of its fuel efficiency policy, as if his personal remuneration would depend on the fate of Canadian tar sands interests. The Commission has most of the time preferred to turn the other cheek to such aggressive behaviour, but they should probably ask themselves whether this is smart tactics in hard fought trade negotiations. I am afraid the Commission has been creating an impression in Washington that the Europeans are so desperate to conclude TTIP that it has undercut their ability to put up a tough struggle. If the Commission offers the US-side 96 percent market access and the Americans in turn react to that with an insulting 80-percent-offer, politeness, I am afraid, is not adequate. More and more I hear voices from European industry expressing concern over such experiences.

Altogether, if the course is not corrected substantially, TTIP is probably going to fail. To be very clear: not having a TTIP that would undermine European standards, and not having a TTIP that would dish out privileges to corporate interests through the establishment of an investor-state-dispute-settlement, not having a TTIP that would undermine legislative work democratic decision making by granting undue control to lobby groups through what has been proposed as a “Regulatory Cooperation Council”, not having all of that - would not really be a loss.

A TTIP that would improve standards would be welcome. It would be smart, because it would underpin necessary innovation policies. A TTIP that would help both sides to phase out fossil subsidies and to promote the transformation to low carbon economies in order to avoid runaway climate change would be helpful. And of course there are many technical standards that would merit investment in better compatibility. TTIP, if done the right way, could even help paving the way back towards new efforts in shaping a fair multilateral global trade regime. Unfortunately, that is not the TTIP that has been offered so far.

Maybe, a change of course could start with ISDS. Trade Commissioner De Gucht should just kill this dimension of the negotiation. It would not stand a chance of being ratified in all 28 EU member states anyway.

Last, but not least, let´s not fall into the trap of undue haste. As long as the US-Congress sees no need to even deal with Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) there is certainly no necessity for the EU side to rush the negotiations either. Time should be invested into talking to societal stakeholders seriously, into informing the public appropriately instead of spreading cheap propaganda, and into listening what citizens really want. The result would certainly be a very different TTIP agenda that could be worth supporting.    

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