As many were expecting, discussions over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) had a high priority at this year’s European Business Summit 2015. Almost immediately after the kick-off of the prestigious summit last week in Brussels, which completed its 15th anniversary this year, an interesting EU-US trade agreement tailor made session was launched.
“Is the TTIP compatible with the European Project?”, was the title of the session which was moderated by Daniela Vincenti, EurActiv’s Editor in Chief, last Wednesday’s afternoon. The European Sting was certainly there to report.
Jean-Luc Demarty, Director General for Trade at the European Commission has no doubts that “TTIP is about completing the European Union’s project”. Mr. Demarty focused his speech on pushing back critics of TTIP who believe that is lowering European standards and flattening the Old Conitnent’s diversity into a single “Transatlantic market” with the US. “TTIP is totally not about creating a single Transatlantic Market – I want to be clear – and not about lowering European standards”, he stressed.
Mrs. Luisa Santos, Director for International Affairs at BusinessEurope soon echoed him. “The TTIP is an agreement that can boost, actually that can re-launch the European project, from many aspects!”, she said at Palais d’Egmont last week. “TTIP is not a question of lowering the current EU standards, it is all about finding new opportunities for our economy maintaining the current standards, particularly for our small and medium businesses”, she underlined, before adding that Europe does not want the US to become the “29th country” of the Union, and so to create a flat Transatlantic market – as many critics are warning – but “just” to improve the situation through dialogue and new opportunities.
At the end of the meeting, Mrs. Santos was questioned by the European Sting and challenged on a particularly delicate question: we asked her “if she feels that an alleged lack of commitment by the EU was perceived at the other side of the Atlantic, since the debate in the Old Continent has become particularly harsh and some member states are allegedly losing interest in this mammoth trade agreement – as the Sting has recently reported. Her reply to that was clear-cut: “Discussions are at the same stage on both sides”, she said.
“The US is no uniformed market, and they have internal dissent, as long approval procedures through several institutions, as we do. We simply have a different approach”, she continued. We also cared to ask if she thinks that other international players, like the US in this case, might think that doing business with the EU always involves long periods of negotiation to have even a pre-agreement, and whether the EU’s approval procedures may be a bit too slow, also because of a complex regulation. Mrs. Santos replied that the EU has the same problems of the world’s other key players that have variegate economic textures. “We are perceived as a reliable, strong partner for trade”, she reaussured.
Richard Elsner, author, consultant for many companies and entrepreneur, does not exactly share the same view according to what he has declared during that EBS session. “My top-line thought is that we have to simplify regulation and processes if we really want to help business and facilitate agreements”, he said. He also pointed attention to SMEs, and criticised the EU-US trade agreement as it currently stands.
“There’s a lot to do to help SMEs inside negotiations – TTIP at the moment has too many aspects which are against the small businesses’ interests! 66% percent of the EU’s workers are employed in SMEs, and the EU has to simplify procedures and business itself if it want to answer this call”. “Here regulations are higher than in the USA in too many sectors and we simply have to change this”, Mr. Elsner warned.
TTIP, which is believed to boost the EU’s economy by €120 billion and the US economy by €95 billion (equal to 0.5% and 0.4% of GDP respectively), is currently encountering strong criticism widely for many controversial aspects, like the ISDS clause, the mechanism that would allow corporations to sue governments in tribunals if they believe to have been obstructed by local laws.
Many TTIP opponents say that the EU has failed to give proper answers about such controversies to its citizens and that still transparency is not guaranteed. Mr. Demarty, for his part, was sure: “Here it’s all about myths and facts; a facts is that TTIP is an opportunity we simply cannot miss”.
The Sting will follow closely TTIP evolutions with much interest, as done previously.