“Health and environment first of all”, EU says with forced optimism after 7th round of TTIP talks

Dan Mullaney, Chief US Negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Chief EU Negotiator for the TTIP, started the 7th round of talks to establish the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in Chevy Chase, in the Maryland. Judging from the body language, it seems that these two gentlemen understand each other extremely  well. (EC Audiovisual Services, 29/09/2014)

Dan Mullaney, Chief US Negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Chief EU Negotiator for the TTIP, started the 7th round of talks to establish the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in Chevy Chase, in the Maryland. Judging from the body language, it seems that evidently these two gentlemen understand each other extremely well. (EC Audiovisual Services, 29/09/2014)

Last Friday the United States and the European Union concluded the seventh round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks in the US. After a year of negotiations in both Washington and Brussels, and many notable obstacles on the way, the diplomats last week displayed some optimism.

The official outcome was that the process has entered a phase of “concrete discussions based on text proposals”, as declared at the morrow of the meetings, finally “moving from general discussions on the framework of the agreement”. But despite the optimistic approach shown by both Chief US negotiator Dan Mullaney and Chief EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia-Bercero at the conference that wrapped up the five-day meeting, I think that this 7th round will be remembered as well for the backlash of criticism and concerns. Especially on this side of the Atlantic.

The European Union is now trying to avoid that the latest query on safety would turn into the breeding ground for a new season of obstacles and critic, on the way to the completion of the world’s biggest trade accord. Indeed the alleged threat that a trade deal with the United States would undermine Europe’s protection against dangerous chemicals is one of the hottest questions now in Brussels. Many environmental and consumer advocates are highly critical of the TTIP negotiations, saying the agreement could weaken chemical regulation in both areas.

Especially some environmental groups in Europe say that the trade agreement would allow the US multinational companies to enter the European market with chemical products that are now considered toxic in the EU. The matter has not been taken as a simple complaint of a few, and the quick and firm reply is a proof. In a letter addressed to James Thornton, CEO OF Client Earth and Carroll Muffett, CEO at the Centre of International and Environmental Law, the EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told the environmental activists on Friday that a free-trade pact between the two blocs will not force the EU to change its regulations on the use of chemicals.

“I would like to reassure you that we take very seriously the concerns expressed by civil society”, he opened the letter. “In particular, we strongly underline that the Commission will not even consider any measure under TTIP that may give priority to trade […] over the protection of the health of our citizens or of the environment”, he declared. However, Mr. de Gucht’s firm declaration that “a possible agreement would under no circumstances result in the lowering of existing EU environmental and health standards with regard to chemicals”, seemed to have not convinced the main detractors of the deal that would not lower the EU’s protection standards anyway.

The regulation on chemicals didn’t drag the general attention away from one of the main knots of the EU-US trade deal. Indeed much of the criticism of TTIP has focused on the pact’s “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” clause, which has recently become the main point of discussion on a more “business-related side” of the agreement. When just a few days ago the European Union and Canada officially marked the end of five years of negotiations and finally signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), all the attention then went onto TTIP. Indeed both the CETA and the TTIP would include an ISDS clause, which would allow private investors and companies to take legal actions against the governments if they feel local laws threatened their investments.

Germany’s Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel is one of the main opponents of the inclusion of provisions in trade deals to protect investors, but on the other hand it seems that the United States are quite eager to have the clause included. Further, Mr. Garcia Bercero said last Friday that that issue has not been discussed during the 7th round of talks last week and will wait for the results of a public consultation on the matter launched by European authorities. I guess this might sound as another obstacle on the patch ahead to reach the deal, or as the umpteenth postponement.

“In an agreement of this importance and magnitude, these proposals are in many cases long and complex and require many hours of detailed and difficult discussion and analysis”, said Dan Mullaney, as reported by an official US Trade Office press release. Both Mr. Mullaney and Mr. Garcia-Bercero declined to suggest a timetable for reaching agreement last week.

The US and EU leaders had initially set a timetable for completing an agreement for TTIP, which is seen by both parts as a means to boost economic growth, by late 2014.

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