EU Parliament raises burning issues over the FTA with the US

Seminar on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) State of play following the vote of the European Parliament International Trade Committee. (EP photographic library).

Seminar on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) State of play following the vote of the European Parliament International Trade Committee. (EP photographic library).

Yesterday, the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee discussed for the first time, the much advertised joint announcement by the EU and the US, to start negotiations for the conclusion of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement. As the European Sting predicted the FTA negotiators would be confronted with two very old and very thorny issues.

According to the Sting writer Maria Milouv: “More than once in the past the EU and the US have tried to start negotiations for an FTA, but all those efforts were drowned in the difficult waters of the European Union’s agricultural sector. With France being the main force behind EU agriculture, everybody can understand, why a trade agreement between EU and the US was so far stuck on two issues: animal products from bovines grown with hormones and GMOs (genetically modified corn, wheat and soya). American exports to the EU of those products are banned. This issue has caused in the past decades a few trade wars over the Atlantic”.

It was exactly those two chapters that the MEPs indicated as the more difficult ones to be successfully concluded. A Parliament press release reveals that many Parliamentarians raised those issues. The relevant part of this text is quoted here below. It goes like this:

“However, almost all the MEPs in the debate highlighted systemic differences between the EU and the US, where strong public criticism could be expected…Vital Moreiria (S&D, PT), chair of the trade committee and responsible for relations with the US, said the biggest bone of contention in the talks would be animal and plant health standards. He wondered whether the EU would have to abandon its traditional precautionary approach in that area. Other MEPs raised concerns over genetically modified crops and hormones in beef. Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) pinpointed the need to protect the EU’s geographical indication system”.

It’s the same old story

In short the historical impediments always remain strong. The Americans however have made clear from the beginning, that an agreement without a solution in those two fronts has no value at all for them. Consequently the high level of the source of the joint EU-US statement (undersigned by the three Presidents, namely Barack Obama, Herman Van Rompuy and Manuel Barroso) is an infallible sign, that the two sides have irreversibly decided to bring this to the end.

Unfortunately, the only way for this Gordian Knot to be solved, is that Europe has to yield on its positions over certain crucial issues. In short Europeans will probably have to eat American beef with hormones and genetically modified corn, wheat and soya. Probably they might be also obliged to open their data for the American to prey upon and accept the ACTA “from the window after throwing it out of the door”.

Another indication that the two sides have decided to go ahead with this bilateral FTA at whatever cost, is the very tight time schedule agreed for its conclusion. According to the plan full scale negotiations have to start within the current Irish Presidency of the Council, that is before the end of June and be concluded before the end of next year. Given the immense scope of this Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TRIP) those twenty months remaining till December 2014, is a ridiculously short time being decided like this just to create overwhelming pressures on the EU negotiators and their political chiefs.

Plus new thorns

Last but not least the European Parliamentarians posed the question of the House’s own involvement in the negotiations, a procedure that is not at all clear. The MEPs also raised the issue of data protection. Paul Murphy (EUL/NGL, IRL) and Franziska Keller (Grens/EFA, DE) asked whether the Parliament’s positions on intellectual property rights and data protection would be respected and how the House would be involved in the negotiating process. Several MEPs voiced fears about “sneaking ACTA in through the back door”.

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