14 March 2016

EU "will have to concede” to seal TTIP deal warn US campaigners

USTR’s push for consistency in sister deals TPP & TTIP leave little room for negotiation say former state-legislator Sharon Treat & trade campaigner Melinda St. Louis

Simon McKeagney, Editor

While many in Europe consider the backlash against TTIP as an EU-phenomenon, the upset that trade deals are causing “across the pond” reflect many of the same concerns gripping the debate in Europe. The acronym on everyone’s lips might be different for now, but one thing is certain- trade deals and their implications for ordinary people have leaked into mainstream consciousness. 

The US has just finalised TTIP’s sister deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 12 Pacific ring nations, and they have the battle scars to prove it. In the last year, the TPP debate has pitted House Democrats against President Obama, a major rift that in turn ensured all leading presidential candidates came out against the deal, even Hillary Clinton. Trump and other Republicans have also vowed to scrap the deal, which puts TPP’s passage through Congress later this year on shaky grounds.

TPP: setting the stage for TTIP

When European Parliament MEPs met with US campaigners during the 12th round of TTIP talks in mid-February, they were quick to warn that the fight over TPP is far from over, and it is likely to have profound impacts on the TTIP talks. 

“There’s a big fight building in Congress over TPP” explained Sharon Treat, former state-legislator from Maine, now member of the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission. “And that fight will set the stage for TTIP”. Treat noted that the 20 years of living with the NAFTA trade deal, and the job losses that followed in many states like Maine, are not something Democrats have easily forgotten. Many issues that plague TPP are already part of the TTIP negotiations.  

One big thorn is investor-rights, and what to do about the controversial ISDS mechanism. The EU Commission’s proposal to change it to move toward an international investment court in the future, has not been welcomed by USTR to date. What they have achieved in the TPP for ISDS is the model they want to pursue going forward.

“On ISDS- the US is very dug in to their proposal” explained Melinda St. Louis, Trade campaigner with America's largest consumer rights organisation, Public Citizen. She believes there is little likelihood the US would agree to the EU proposal. Even the minimal improvements made to ISDS in the TPP are being attacked by some members of Congress, at the behest of big industry. 

“We’ve been surprised about how willing they’ve been to hold up what is effectively their own wish-list of demands. Sectors like big pharma have gotten 98% of what they wanted, but they’re still holding up the TPP to get 100%.” 

Similarly, a restriction included in the TPP preventing tobacco companies from using ISDS to attack public health measures is also being fiercely opposed by representatives like Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader for the Senate, with links to the tobacco industry. With such minor improvements causing headaches, the likelihood of an ISDS overhaul passing Congress looks nigh impossible.

Not boding well for TTIP

“If the EU wants a deal that is going to pass Congress, I would bet you’re going to have to concede on a lot of things” said St. Louis. “The political fallout since the TPP talks is likely to influence USTR. Either it will be a staring contest for a long time, or the EU will have to concede.”  

Sharon Treat noted that the fact that negotiation teams haven’t even begun to discuss difficult issues like procurement and investment protection is a sign that swift completion of the deal in 2016 looks unlikely. And there are new threats specific to the TTIP negotiations that Americans are only just beginning to understand. “On regulatory cooperation plans in TTIP, I travel around the country and discuss this proposal with state legislators, and to put it colloquially, they’re completely freaked out about it.” 

“I don’t think secret negotiations that set public policy are a way to make society more democratic.” 


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