TTIP fight round 6: last chance for the negotiators to finally open up as they touch the Brussels ring

Dacian Cioloş, Member of the EC in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development and Tom Vilsack, US State Secretary for Agriculture, in the informal working dinner on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/06/2014)

Dacian Cioloş, Member of the EC in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development and Tom Vilsack, US State Secretary for Agriculture, in the informal working dinner on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/06/2014)

The next round of the EU-US talks on the ‘infamous’ trade and investment deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is just around the corner now, but new, fierce critics against the deal are launching back. The gigantic trade agreement, known as TTIP, has been largely criticized from the day 1 by many detractors, who claimed major risks and concerns ranging from the import of US food, the circulation of GMOs and data privacy; now it faces new protests about a very hot topic: healthcare. Cold winds against the major deal are blowing, from the English Channel this time.

On the third of July numerous British newspapers reported the news that unions are voicing calls on the government to stop the major trade deal from going ahead, which they warn that threatens to make privatisation of NHS services “irreversible”. Unite, Britain’s biggest union with 1,5 million members, argued that the TTIP is “the result of secret negotiations between US officials and the European Commission”, as reported by the Belfast Telegraph. Further, Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey said: “David Cameron has shown that he’s willing to go to Europe to defend bankers’ bonuses, now he must use his powers to defend our cherished NHS.”
The Union basically argues that the bilateral trade agreement will create a single market between the European Union and the United States, removing barriers between public assets and multinational corporations.

Just a few hours later on that day last week the reply from the European Commission came sharp. In an official press release the Commission rushed to give ‘explanations’. “In the EU, public services such as healthcare and education are amongst the best in the world. They play a special role which Europeans value, and which EU law recognises”, the announcement reassured from the first lines. Then, most importantly, the European Commission wanted to concentrate on the hot topic. “For publicly-funded healthcare and social services, education or water services, EU governments don’t have to treat companies or individuals from outside the EU the same as those from within Europe and do not have to provide access to their markets” the statement described. It also added that governments instead can favour European firms over foreign ones, prevent foreign firms from providing, or investing in these services and finally reverse at a later date any decision to allow foreign firms to provide a particular service.”

The Commission’s reply was precise and accurate, but probably not convincing enough to send the critics of the TTIP for a coffee break. One of the hottest points of discussion against the deal has always been the alleged secrecy surrounding the discussions, the meetings and the entire negotiation process. From Washington to Brussels, TTIP critics are constantly claiming that not enough explanations and clarifications on the conditions/terms are given behind the massive trade agreement, which might change the life of millions of people in the two continents. And big news caused a lot of fuzz about it recently.

A decision that the European Court of Justice has taken could be determining the future of the hot trade agreement. On July 3 the European Court of Justice ruled that access to documents relating to international activity would not be automatically exempt from EU transparency requirements. This decision might open the possibility for the European Commission to make public papers related to the EU-US trade deal, the TTIP.

Some big plaudit though came from the European Public Health Alliance. On its official website EPHA “welcomed the ruling and calls for the release of all TTIP documents into the public sphere and for the Directorate-General for Trade to coordinate further mechanisms for the public to express their opinions on the content of the documents”. Emma Woodford, EPHA Interim Secretary General, stated that “Yesterday’s ruling has the potential to ease the secrecy around these crucial trade negotiations. The current secrecy around the negotiations threatens European democracy and faith in the European institutions at a time when we need to be encouraging policy makers to be more open to the needs of the people. The secretive way the TTIP negotiations have been conducted are creating a climate of fear and further distrust”.

These strict words are clearly contradictory to some other pro TTIP views. According to Reuters, Germany’s Angela Merkel made a strong plea last Thursday for the European Union and the United States to complete their talks concerning the completion of a new transatlantic free trade area. “I feel totally committed to this deal and really want to implement it”, she told during a conference of business supporters of her conservative party in Berlin, warning them about the ‘false arguments’ used by the deal’s critics.

All this comes at a very decisive moment for the massive trade agreement, which some studies claim to amount to anything close to a 120 billion € increase in the amount of wealth for the European economy every year. As I said in the beginning of the article, we are just a few days before from the next round of the EU-US talks, which will probably be also the most decisive so far. The deadline for the final agreement to be reached, which was initially set for late spring 2016, is coming closer, and the protests will keep burning if openness and clarity, together with sanity, in the negotiations do not prevail.

The talks will be held in Brussels from Monday 14th to Friday 18th July 2014, and during this round negotiators are expected to continue their discussions on several issues such as trade of goods and services, regulatory issues, government procurement, environmental protection and opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises, as announced.

The TTIP story goes on and the Sting will certainly follow closely.

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