The 11th round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks between the European Union and the United States concluded last Friday in Miami. The many variables and questions around the latest round of negotiations, as we reported last week, made the road to Miami’s meeting, as well as its outcome, very uncertain. It is now time to analyse the key takeaways though.
The main objectives
“This has been a round of very hard work”, said the EU chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero in an official EU Statement right after the conclusion of the meetings in Miami. “Both sides rolled up their sleeves and engaged in intensive negotiations. After this week we are one step closer towards agreeing a balanced, high standard and comprehensive trade agreement that will benefit consumers, small and large businesses and create new opportunities for workers on both sides of the Atlantic”, he added.
The main objective of the senior negotiators of the EU and the US during last week’s TTIP round was to make some steps forward on market access, especially on tariffs, services and public procurement sides. The exchange of new tariff offers, in order to eliminate duties on 97 percent of tariff lines, was one of the main promises prior to Miami talks.
“Concretely speaking, during this round we have made substantial progress on market access for EU and US companies”, said Mr. Bercero, before stressing that the two sides have officially “exchanged second tariff offers” and that are now on a “comparable level” in terms of tariff line coverage. “This is an important step as our aim is to eliminate the vast majority of tariffs from day one of entry into force of the agreement”, he declared.
It is always important to keep in mind though, as we said in our analysis last week, that tariffs between the US and the EU are already quite low, but still many barriers remain for the trans-Atlantic businesses. Indeed, while the average tariffs of goods traded between the two blocs every year, for a nearly € 640 billion worth, are below 3 percent, some individual products have import taxes with double-digits.
“Each side retains tariffs and some in the double digits that discourage trade or make consumer products or manufacturing imports more expensive than they need to be,” US Chief Negotiator Dan Mullaney underlined on a conference call with reporters last Friday. Mr. Garcia Bercero added that the two sides had “a first opportunity to compare the offers, to discuss them and I think there is a general recognition that they fulfill the criteria that we have set out for ourselves”.
Another strange case
TTIP’s 11th round won’t be remembered only for the results and the commitment the negotiators showed on the market access side. As reported by the Guardian, another leaked document could open the way to new questions about the gigantic EU-US trade agreement. Indeed the British newspaper reports that the EU appears to have broken a promise to reinforce environmental protections, according to a “leaked” draft negotiating text submitted in the latest round of TTIP talks in Miami.
The confidential text seen by the Guardian and filed in the sustainable development dossier of negotiations last week contains only “vaguely phrased and non-binding commitments” to environmental safeguards, which on the contrary the EU promised to defend and protect till the end. The Guardian reports that no obligations to ratify international environmental conventions are proposed, and ways of enforcing goals on biodiversity, chemicals and illegal wildlife trade are absent too.
The EU has not commented on this so far, but for sure the leaked document which was just brought under the spotlight could easily trigger the next wave of “Stop TTIP protests” in the Old Continent. Already last Friday, several civil society groups including Friends of the Earth (FoE) published a Press Release and openly criticised the EU for allegedly lowering its environmental protection standards. Natacha Cingotti, Trade campaigner at FoE Europe, said: “This new leak illustrates that the European Commission is not serious about protecting essential safeguards for citizens and the environment in the context of the TTIP talks”.
As we analysed recently, the TTIP is experiencing a season of fierce opposition by environmental and consumer groups, and at the same time the enthusiasm and commitment in some key markets like Germany seems to be at a record low. But despite the heavy critics and the growing opposition in Europe, Chief Negotiators are convinced that “important steps” were taken during the last round of negotiations is Miami.
The 2016 target
Following the positive conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations among the USA and 12 Pacific Rim countries earlier this month, US Chief Negotiator, Mr Mullaney, seems confident that negotiators committed themselves to conclude TTIP’s negotiation phase under the Obama administration. “We believe it is important to try to finish these negotiations during President Obama’s presidency. To do that, we’ll need to use our time with maximum efficiency,” he maintained.
In order to achieve this goal though and to complete TTIP by 2016 – something that seems very hard nowadays – Mr. Mullaney said that all forces are already aligned, citing the agreement U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and the EU’s Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström cut last March.
“To sum up, there is a strong political will on both sides of the Atlantic to reach a good agreement as confirmed during the latest discussions between Commissioner Malmström and Ambassador Froman in Washington in September” said EU’s Garcia Bercero in conclusion of his statement.“This round was about translating this political will into concrete steps forward”.
Only time will tell now whether or not strong political will in the EU can outweigh technical and pragmatic limitations.