UK’s Cameron takes the field to speed up TTIP talks. Will “rocket boosters” work?

Round table: Mariano Rajoy Brey, Spanish Prime Minister, François Hollande, President of the French Republic, Barack Obama, President of the United States, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor, Herman van Rompuy and Jean-Claude Juncker (in a clockwise direction). David Cameron's seat right next to President Obama made it inevitable that he boosts TTIP at Brisbane. (EC Audiovisual Services, 16/11/2014)

Round table: Mariano Rajoy Brey, Spanish Prime Minister, François Hollande, President of the French Republic, Barack Obama, President of the United States, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor, Herman van Rompuy and Jean-Claude Juncker (in a clockwise direction). David Cameron’s seat right next to President Obama made it inevitable that he boosts TTIP at Brisbane. (EC Audiovisual Services, 16/11/2014)

In the last few months negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) seemed to have slowed down significantly. TTIP talks have never been too lively but it looks like the growing critics and the loud protests of late summer and early autumn made the whole process reach a sort of deadlock.

The huge interests, hopes and promises contained in what could be the largest EU-US trade deal in history, reportedly able to boost EU economy with € 120 billion and the US economy with € 95 billion, are still there though, and politicians know this very well. The Australian G20 was indeed the right field for state leaders to openly gather their efforts in order to launch a new phase, and to try to bring back TTIP under the spotlight.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first one last Sunday to urge European nations to speed up their negotiations with the United States over TTIP agreement between the two economic superpowers. As reported by Reuters, Merkel said at a news conference in Sydney that the EU should negotiate in a “speedy and determined” way with the U.S. to complete the trade deal. The Chancellor was not the only one to try to revive enthusiasm towards the trade agreement.

UK’S Prime Minister David Cameron has focused extensively on TTIP during his final press conference in Australia, which marked the end of the Brisbane G20 conference. Mr. Cameron said the EU and the US president, Barack Obama, had agreed to speed up the negotiations aimed at achieving a transatlantic trade and investment partnership.

He then openly referred to the political hiatus caused by the appointment of a new European Commission and US midterm elections, which has been substantially slowing down negotiations, saying that “rocket boosters” would now be put under the talks. It was “time to take on some of the opponents of this deal and expose the arguments against it”, he said. “This is good for Britain, good for jobs, good for growth and British families”.

UK’s Prime Minister then moved to a much more delicate ground, which has put debate over TTIP literally on fire during the past few months: the National Health System. Last July many British newspapers made the news that UK unions were voicing calls on the government to stop the major trade deal from going ahead. Unions and many British opponents claimed (and still claim) that the agreement could allow US medical giants to demand access to run health services in Europe – so basically to privatise them “irreversibly” – and challenge in the courts if they are denied the right.

Speaking at the G20 summit Mr. Cameron strongly affirmed that arguments that the TTIP would lead to the privatisation of the health service were “weak”, and fears over the NHS falling into the hands of US corporations were “bogus nonsense”. “We have to take on these arguments. I think they’re very weak”, he stated. “There are people who argue in some way this could damage the NHS. I think that is nonsense. It’s our National Health Service, it’s in the public sector, it will stay in the public sector, that’s not going to change”, he firmly added.

Beyond his firm mode and the “enthusiasm” that he “sensed” from EU leaders and US President Barack Obama during a meeting in Brisbane right before his speech, the UK’s Prime Minister is very alive to the risk of opponents presenting his passion for free trade as being a danger to the NHS. The question is extremely delicate in the UK at the moment, and many British journalists and political analysts believe that healthcare is fast becoming one of the main issues in next May’s general election. And Mr Cameron knows he cannot only use clear-cut words and firm manners to reassure British citizens that nothing will change for the NHS.

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the Unite union, immediately wanted to reply to Mr. Cameron’s words, and the tone was as firm as the PM’s one during the conference in Australia for sure. “David Cameron is riding roughshod over the people of Britain by refusing to listen to their concerns over the threat this trade deal poses to the NHS”, he said, as reported by the main British newspapers. Furthermore, he asked: “If TTIP is not a threat to the NHS then why doesn’t David Cameron just make an explicit commitment to use his veto in Europe to get the NHS out of TTIP?”

The question remains very delicate, as many others are raising concerns throughout the whole European Union. The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause in the agreement, which would allow corporate firms to sue a country where domestic legislation negatively impacts upon their profits, is currently under negotiation, and an outcome on the matter after the Australian weekend is yet to emerge.

Now it’s completely clear that all EU leaders can do is to reaffirm commitment and to stay confident an agreement will be reached “soon”, in order to keep US negotiators, which are reportedly showing signs of impatience, as passionate as they are.

In a joint statement published on the EU website, the main EU leaders claimed that “the Leaders of the United States and the European Union, and the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain […] remain committed, as we were when we launched these negotiations in June 2013”.

Supposing and – why not – trusting that the above is true, we should now ask whether they believe it is still possible to have an agreement by the end of 2015, as originally foreseen. But this would probably be quite an expansive question.

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