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02 February 2015
8th Round of Negotiations begins today in Brussels
The 8th round of EU-US trade talks begins today following a 4 month hiatus after the appointment of the new Commission last October. US negotiators will meet their EU counterparts in Brussels until Friday, where the controversial issue of “regulatory cooperation” is likely to be the key item on the agenda.
Regulatory Cooperation: hidden dangers
The Commission has maintained that up to two thirds of the supposed “wins” from TTIP will come from the elimination of non-tariff-barriers to trade (NTBs) which will be removed or reduced by joint EU-US regulatory cooperation. While this may sound innocuous, such efforts have huge potential to fundamentally alter the decision-making process in Europe and US, with proposed laws and regulations needing to be screened by either side before implementation.
This screening would be done through the formation of a new institution- the Regulatory Cooperation Body (RCB) whose job it would be to decide whether existing or proposed environmental, social or consumer regulations would negatively impact trade.
In an INTA/JURI Hearing in the European Parliament on 27 January, the Commission's lead negotiator for regulatory cooperation, Fernando Perreau de Pinninck, depicted the envisioned Regulatory Cooperation Body (RCB) as a cosy venue for Directors of regulatory agencies from the US and EU to discuss possible common solutions for technical problems. But such a picture does not square with the expectation in the economic impact assessments of TTIP that up to two thirds of the economic gains of a TTIP would be generated through regulatory cooperation.
While little is known about the US positions in TTIP, as neither Member States or MEPs are allowed to see any US draft proposals, the EU’s regulatory cooperation proposal has already been met with opposition. The draft text has been altered a number of times since December, indicating the internal discomfort from Member States at Council level. Initial drafts called for regulatory cooperation to apply to national and sub-national levels- which could see the RCB screen or challenge any local proposed laws- such as clean air acts for cities, or other environmental and social laws for regions and municipalities.
Proposed laws and regulation must be submitted a year in advance to the RCB, which will have the power to scrutinise and demand changes to any proposal. This in itself forces either party into a defensive position for proposed laws, which could further catalyse a “chilling effect” on new regulation for a host of areas, from pesticides and chemicals, to food safety or laws to combat climate change.
It has also alarmed civil society, who believe it could give unprecedented influence to business lobbies on both sides of the Atlantic and prioritise trade and investment over any effort to legislate for the greater public good.
Civil Society join forces in Brussels
NGOs and civil society groups from across Europe will also meet in Brussels this week to highlight the threats of regulatory cooperation and to call for its complete removal from the negotiations. A planned protest on Wednesday 4th will see a giant Trojan Horse outside the Berlaymont to coincide with a “stakeholder's” meeting for business and civil society groups. Local campaigners will also meet with MEPs to discuss their positions on TTIP and ISDS, ahead of two votes in the Parliament due in the months ahead.
While the EU has publicly announced a “fresh start” to the TTIP talks, the US has signalled that very little will advance in the talks until the autumn at the earliest. President Obama may not be granted Fast Track Authority until the summer, meaning that negotiations on key areas like public procurement may not develop until September onwards. This in turn is likely to mean that a TTIP conclusion in 2015 is no longer possible, and could even be delayed until after the presidential elections in the US in 2016. The delays have frustrated proponents of the deal here in Europe, who are finding it difficult to quantify any progress made in the talks since they first began over a year and a half ago.
However, despite this, plans for regulatory cooperation will continue to be fine-tuned over the first half of 2015 by EU negotiators, and like the more widely reported Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) it is a crucial area of concern and is perceived by Greens in Europe as the biggest risk TTIP presents to democracy.
Watch: TTIP - A Race to the Bottom