Arlington, USA: kick-off of the fifth round of the EU-US boxing match

TTIP

Dan Mullaney (left), Chief US Negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Ignacio Garcia Bercero (right), Chief EU Negotiator for the TTIP, started the fifth round of negotiations in preparation for the establishment of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in Arlington, Virginia from 19 to 23 May 2014. (EC Audiovisual Services)

The time for the fifth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, has come, and lights were concentrated on Monday in Arlington, Virginia for the fifth round of negotiations. In the week of the European Parliament elections, which could change the Union’s political scene, there might be more news to come for the EU citizens. The talks on what could be the biggest trade deal of all times, involving the world’s most developed economies, will last until the end of the week. The point is just whether these talks will be decisive in the agreement process or not. And also, what benefits will come for the European population, and at what price. The proposed trade agreement is indeed very controversial, but are people really informed and educated about it? Do people care?

Let’s start with the basics: Supporters of TTIP see this as a huge opportunity to stimulate economic growth and raise incomes in both markets, the American and the European. Opponents (mainly on the “Brussels side”) see this trade agreement as very dangerous for the environmental, health, data privacy and food regulation standards. The EU’s Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, says a deal would really give a boost to both economies, and that in the longer term, working together in this area “would preserve our leading position in the global economy for the next generation”. The most important economic analysis on the Transatlantic Partnership so far, released by the European Commission in September 2013, predicts an ambitious increase of the size of the EU economy of around € 120 billion (or 0.5% of GDP) and the US by € 95 billion (or 0.4% of GDP). “This would be a permanent increase in the amount of wealth that the European and American economies can produce every year”, the document says. Pro-TTIP analyst are convinced that these benefits will come from the still unexplored “areas” of the American economy, which is believed to be still a kind of closed market.

On the other hand, there are researches who describe the possible benefits as “very small”, with higher risks of lowering the standards of the environmental regulations in both areas. Main concerns lay especially on the food regulations, where European opponents argue that there would be issues with massive GMO circulation, and a much more loose protection of local high-quality products, should the agreement see the light. Spokespersons for the Green Party of England and Wales and the Green Party of the US, for instance, said the provisions of the deal would “undermine democracy”, as it will allow the biggest multinational companies like Monsanto to allegedly “sue” the governments over profit loss during the law-making processes. Public resistance has risen as well. Some 240 people were arrested in an anti-TTIP protest last week in Brussels. The demonstrators had gathered in central Brussels, outside Egmont Palace – the venue where the European Business Summit 2014 was ongoing – to protest against the partnership agreement, which they say is being negotiated “in total opacity”. Many claim the level of secrecy around the negotiations to be very high indeed. The European Commission says you need “a certain degree of confidentiality” when negotiating this kind of agreements.

We must say that, although some kind of “mission: transparency” and “we’d-love-to-hear-from-you” programmes are towering over the TTIP’s European mini-website, people don’t seem to be really informed about this gigantic partnership agreement. We are talking about one of the hottest topics of the last years in Brussels, which should have been dominating the scenes during this elections’ debates, and we know for sure that in many countries the minutes that the TV shows have dedicated to TTIP are less than the ones spent on talks about the candidates’ haircut. And if the European citizens are not really informed about the status of the negotiations or about the partnership agreement itself, the Americans don’t seem to be fully aware, let’s say.

During the exclusive interview the European Sting had with Mr Tim Bennett, Director General and CEO of the Transatlantic Business Council last week at EBS, he claimed that “the US population is less educated on TTIP than is European population at this particular time”. “Business community is very supportive of this trade agreement while most of the members of the US Congress don’t even know that the TTIP [negotiations] have even started, as the US population outside of Washington” he declared. “So if the question was -Do you support trade agreements?- the majority would say Yes, -Would you support a major trade agreement with Europe?- Yes, but if you ask about this agreement in particular they have no idea of what TTIP itself is”, he added.

Our stimulating conversation with Mr Bennett was enlightening also for another reason. As some of our readers might know, there is another major trade agreement which is allegedly warming the American hearts more than the TTIP’s doing, and this is called the Trans Pacific Partnership, the “TPP”, set to be signed with some of the most prominent economies of the Pacific area. Mr Bennet denied the fact that the TPP is gaining momentum against TTIP, stating that if the question was “Would you support a major trade agreement with Asia?” the American citizens support would be actually less passionate than about TTIP. “The sentiment in the US Congress among those who are at least vaguely aware of these two trade negotiations is more in favour of the Europe agreement”, Mr. Bennett underlined, before giving us an exclusive revelation. “I think it’s a possibility that the Pacific agreement will never come to conclusion, whereas I am very confident that the agreement between Europe and the United States is so important for economic and geopolitical reasons”.

The TTIP talks started one year ago, and are now already at the fifth round. Regulatory coherence on chemicals and cosmetics, on pharmaceutical products, motor vehicles and clothing is one of the main points of discussion of the US based talks this week. The final adjustments on the Partnership were expected to come by the end of this year initially, however many say this has never been said. Most of people that work on this major trade agreement see the first official draft to be submitted to the EU Commission and US Congress for their consideration in January-April 2016, and hope the final agreement to conclude by late spring 2016. Mr Bennett was clear about his time expectations on the conclusion of the TTIP during the exclusive interview at the European Sting pavilion on European Business Summit 2014.

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