EU Commission – US hasten talks to avoid NGO reactions on free trade agreement

Dan Mullaney, Chief US negotiator (on the left) and Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Chief European Union negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), held a second round of talks in Brussels from Monday 11 to Friday 15 November 2013. (EC Audiovisual Services 15/11/2013).

Dan Mullaney, Chief US negotiator (on the left) and Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Chief European Union negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), held a second round of talks in Brussels from Monday 11 to Friday 15 November 2013. (EC Audiovisual Services 15/11/2013).

Last Friday 15 November the European Union and the United States concluded the second round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations in Brussels. The TTIP is a kind of enlarged free trade agreement involving the two largest trading partners of the world. It covers mainly the impediments after the borders (regulations and technical barriers) rather than tariffs, which have practically been restricted to an average of 4% a long time ago. Both sides said that “significant progress was made” last week.

Negotiations have been planned to advance by weekly rounds. The first one was realised last July and the next one was set for October. However, due to the shutdown of the American administration for 17 days during that month, the last round was cancelled. Talks resumed last Monday, with the second round having been concluded last Friday 15 November. The next round of the TTIP negotiations will take place in Washington D.C. in the week of 16 December.

Both sides insisted that despite the postponement of the second round, the negotiations remain on track. Obviously there are high level interests that press the negotiators to accelerate their work to cover for the lost time. It’s very interesting to note that in addition to the physical meetings in Brussels last week, “video conferences took place covering plant health and hygiene measures, intellectual property rights, competition policy and small and medium enterprises. Video-conferences on tariffs and on sustainable development, including labour and environment, are planned for the coming weeks”. A future meeting to discuss financial services regulations is scheduled in Brussels for 27 November.

No doubt some high-ranking authorities on both sides are pressed for a brief conclusion of the negotiations. As it is easily understood, tariffs are not an issue. It’s the regulatory environment on certain sectors that have consumed most of negotiators’ time. Going through them, one can understand which parties are pressed for a quick conclusion of the talks.

Seeking regulatory coherence

According to a press release issued by the Commission, “Negotiators, including regulatory experts, had a solid discussion on regulatory coherence and on possible elements for a chapter on technical barriers to trade going beyond WTO … They held detailed talks on a number of sectors in which both the EU and the US are keen to enhance regulatory compatibility: medical devices, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, pesticides, information and communication technologies (ICT) and automobiles”.

G. Bercero (on the left) and Dan Mullaney held a joint Press conference last Friday 15 November. (EC Audiovisual Services).

G. Bercero (on the left) and Dan Mullaney held a joint Press conference last Friday 15 November. (EC Audiovisual Services 15/11/2013).

Understandably, those sectors are of a great interest to Germany, France and Britain, the main ‘powers’ behind the breath-taking speed of the negotiations. It is as if other sectors of great interest to smaller EU member states are left for the margins of the negotiations. For example tourism doesn’t seem to occupy any major part of the talks. Still, this sector provides anything between one tenth and one fifth of the GDP of south Eurozone countries. Not to forget that those countries are also the hardest hit by the economic crisis.

Who is served?

In short, it crystal clear that this TTIP is serving primarily the interest of EU’s ‘big three’. There is more to it however. It’s not only the interests of the minor EU member states which are neglected. Issues like data protection, heath and environmental issues are practically exorcised from TTIP negotiations, quite conveniently for the US as well. It is investments, automotive, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and pesticides that cover the major part of negotiations.

Understandably the ‘big three’ of the EU, and the US agree on what to negotiate upon and what to leave out. Only some days ago the Commission made a gift to the US by proposing the free cultivation in the EU of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize seed for sowing under the name of ‘Pioneer 1507’. The EU has already authorised the cultivation on European soil of another GMO seed, the MON 810 maize, also a Monsanto product. This must have been a prerequisite set by the Americans, to accept to change their internal regulatory environment in other sectors of interest for the ‘big three’, like cars and chemicals.

Seemingly that’s why EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said “We are making good and steady progress across the broad range of issues we need to tackle to make our transatlantic business environment more efficient and effective whilst preserving the protections and rights already in place for consumers”. De Guch is prosecuted in his home country Belgium for tax evasion.

Muted stakeholders

It’s interesting to note that the EU’s chief negotiator Ignacio García Bercero, together with his US counterpart Dan Mullaney, held a meeting during this past week with over 350 EU and US stakeholders representing non-governmental organisations, consumer groups, trade unions, and business and professional organisations. Despite the fact, though, that last Friday the Commission issued a Press release of more than one thousand words, there was nothing in it from what those 350 stakeholders said.

Probably the haste that the Commission and the US show to conclude the negotiations is used as a scheme to minimise the reactions from civil society organisations. To this effect, the two sides will not restrict their work to the weekly rounds. Apart from the fact that the next round will go straight up to Xmas from 16 to 20 December, negotiations will be held also as from 27 November to discuss financial services in Brussels as noted above.

All in all, there are no more red lines and things like that in those negotiations. What interests the political bosses of negotiators in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean is the abolishment of restrictions meant to protect consumers, the environment and the conditions of work of professionals.

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