TTIP 9th Round marked by American disappointment: Will some optimism save this trade agreement?

Press conference ahead of the ninth round of the EU/United States Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. In the photo pointing the finger there is Mr Daniel Rosario, EC's Spokesperson for Agriculture and Rural Development; and Trade (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/04/2015).

Press conference ahead of the ninth round of the EU/United States Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. In the photo pointing the finger there is Mr Daniel Rosario, EC’s Spokesperson for Agriculture and Rural Development; and Trade (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/04/2015).

The ninth round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks between the United States and the European Union concluded last Friday in New York City. As said to reporters by EU Chief Negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero at the closing press conference, the delegations from the two sides discussed “all three pillars of the negotiations: market access, regulatory cooperation and rules”.

EU’s optimism

Mr. Bercero, who usually showcases optimism despite some growing scepticism, wrapped up the talks that began Monday 20th of April saying that “a significant step forward has been taken this week on energy and raw materials”. “Our teams have for the first time engaged extensively on all the elements that could be the subject of specific energy and raw materials provisions under this agreement,” Mr. Bercero explained to the reporters.

Progresses in Regulatory Cooperation

As also mentioned by Bercero, one of the key topic that were discussed during this “American” 9th round was the regulatory cooperation. “I would like to underline in particular the discussions that we have held this week on regulatory cooperation and rules”, he stressed; he also added that those were the areas where negotiators have been “specifically tasked to make as much progress as possible”, so as to prepare them for a “joint political review” after summer. The objective of regulatory cooperation is to basically align existing and future rules on both sides of the Atlantic in order to regulate requirements affecting trade or investments.

Importance of cooperation

Further, the chief EU negotiator, after having underlined the importance of the reinforcement of regulatory cooperation in areas of shared interest to bring significant benefits to “regulators, businesses and citizens across the Atlantic”, he then mentioned some the key areas that were covered during New York TTIP talks:  pharmaceutical, automotive and medical; topics where regulators have continued discussions to facilitate the approvals.

Dark clouds looming

As the Sting has recently reported, the gigantic trade agreement, which is believed to boost the EU economy by €120 billion and the US economy by €95 billion (respectively equal to 0.5% and 0.4% of GDP), is not going through one of its best moments, and Mr. Bercero’s optimism might not be enough to bring the passion back.

Indeed the latest TTIP-leak comes on the heels of protests against the mammoth trade deal ahead of the kick-off of the 9th round. Germany was a major protagonist, where thousands of people marched in Berlin, Munich and other German cities last Saturday in protest against the EU-US deal. Those protests come also in the wake of an alleged fall in support for Germany. A recent YouGov poll showed that 43 percent of Germans believe TTIP would be bad for the country, compared to 26 percent who see it as positive, as reported by Reuters.

Another TTIP-Leak case?

Discussions around regulatory cooperation too have been broadly anticipated by rumours during the entire previous week, as the European Commission’s latest proposal on that chapter first leaked to environmental international organisation Friends of the Earth and then published on Monday. The leaked document unchained critics and concerns from many organisations and groups, which have repeatedly proclaimed that according to many analysts the deal could put barriers in the way of all legislation.

Most prominent group affirm that the newest proposals by the Commission could be more harmful to public interest, because they might impose even more barriers to regulations, giving more power to groups of technocrats instead of legislators. “The Commission proposal […] creates a labyrinth of red tape for regulators […] that undermines their appetite to adopt legislation in the public interest,” said Paul de Clerck from Friends of the Earth Europe in a press statement released yesterday.

The American disappointment

But the “regulatory cooperation case” and last week’s heavy protests in Germany and Austria are not the only hot knots for the gigantic trade agreements at the morrow of New York City talks. As many TTIP backers feared in the last months there might be some kind of discomfort arising in the United States for the lack of commitment the EU is showing, according to many US media and analysts.

The question could have become even more structured and deep-rooted. The Office of the United States Trade Representative has recently published a note to express “disappointment” towards the EU for one of its latest moves. The fact concerns one of TTIP’s most thorny questions, the policy around GMOs and genetically-engineered food, which is now under discussion in the Old Continent amid wild protests.

The European option

The EU has reportedly proposed through its negotiators and officers to amend legislation on genetically-engineered food and feed approval process to allow EU countries to “ignore science-based safety and environmental determinations” made by the European Union – as the American note says – and “opt out” of imports of GM food and feed. Something many businessmen in starts and stripes didn’t really like.

Harsh words

“We are very disappointed by today’s announcement of a regulatory proposal that appears hard to reconcile with the EU’s international obligations”, United States Trade Representative Michael Forman declared in the official note. “Moreover, dividing the EU into 28 separate markets for the circulation of certain products seems at odds with the EU’s goal of deepening the internal market”.

The note then concludes with some clear-cut words. “At a time when the U.S. and the EU are working to create further opportunities for growth and jobs through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, proposing this kind of trade restrictive action is not constructive”.

The proposal changes “nothing”

The question is worrisome, and it seems that Bercero knows it all. Actually he opened his speech at the press conference that wrapped up the 9th round mentioning the happening. “Let me start with a few clarifying words about the new Commission proposal on the authorisation of GMO’s for food and feed”, he said, before arguing that the proposal changes “nothing” about the role of the Commission in authorising GMOs for food and feed.

“The proposal gives the possibility for Member States to opt out for legitimate reasons unrelated to risks to human and animal health or the environment. The proposal is consistent with our international obligations”, he underlined, even though I’m not hundred percent sure this – together with some optimism – resulted to be convincing enough for American investors.

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