Last week, fifteen days after the conclusion of the 12th round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, the European Union Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström decided to make her point on the mammoth EU-US trade pact. While on a visit to her American counterpart, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, in Washington DC she gave her personal push to TTIP, speaking about a “plan” to have the EU-US free trade pact sealed by the end of this year.
The latest round of TTIP talks, which was held in Brussels last February, saw both the EU and the US parts confirming they were hoping to secure an agreement by the end of the year but also vowing to accelerate talks. This was essentially the main takeaway of the Brussels session, as the fear of a US primary presidential race to sour voter sentiment toward trade was already under discussion.
A recent statement by the European Commission reported that the main focus of Friday’s discussion between the two was on regulatory cooperation, including good regulatory practices, and sectors such as pharmaceuticals, cars and medical devices. However, the main reason for such a decisive meeting, which came only days after the conclusion of the latest TTIP round by the two trans-Atlantic delegations, was to take decisions on how to proceed with the deal, or to “take stock of progress in the negotiations for the TTIP”, as declared in the official statement.
Indeed Malmström and Froman discussed the recent negotiation round and the way forward in the two rounds planned before the summer, before a bitter US presidential primary race would take attention away. This, indeed, is the main risk TTIP is facing at the moment at the other side of the Atlantic.
Rising US opposition
Indeed many candidates, like Republican front-runner and tycoon Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders, are reportedly voicing strong opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, and so many believe that TTIP will somehow flow under the spotlight. It has been even argued that American workers believe they could be losing their jobs with such deals in place, and a rising sense of risk could just be the starting point of “no-TTIP” campaign in the USA. As reported by Reuters, many believe that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s surprise defeat by Sanders in manufacturing-heavy Michigan has laid bare growing voter anger over trade and job losses.
The risk for the EU now, expanding market access to the US thanks to the abolition of federal restrictions that require state projects funded by local resources is becoming one of the main concerns of the American workers, and this lead to a turning point: for the first time, it’s not the European citizens to be afraid of possible negative effects of the TTIP, such as GMOs circulating or local governments sued by multinational firms, but the American workers are also afraid of losing their jobs.
Commissioner Malmström is now determined to dim such opposition and to promote TTIP’s positive returns in the US, after having gained some kind of experience in the EU the past year. “Without entering into debate with one individual, I don’t share those arguments,” she said. “In good trade agreements, there are a lot of economic advantages”.
Ms. Malmström argued that completing the TTIP goes well beyond just lowering tariffs, and that would be a reflection of the strength of the relationship between the United States and the European Union.
“The European Union and the United States share a vision for the future of trade and that means that in a changing world where we both have less influence than in the past”, she said in her speech. Commissioner Malmström urged her American audience to carefully consider that trans-Atlantic cooperation as “the only way” where the two economic super-powers can “make a difference” for themselves and also “for other parts of the world”.
“However, trade policy is not made in a vacuum. Like all foreign policies it only works if you persuade others of your vision”, she also stressed with resoluteness.
A clear objective
Commissioner Malmström’s visit to Washington was meaningful. On one hand, as said, she wanted to give her boost to the TTIP-cause in a very critical moment. The presidential campaign is at its peak and America produces careful analyses and balances on what has been done and what it’s important to do. Is TTIP still a priority for US leaders? Is that on the American citizens’ mind? This is something only time can tell, but that’s also a very important point for EU negotiators and leaders to discuss.
The 2016 deadline
On the other hand, Ms. Malmström strongly reiterated that she is determined to close most of the TTIP chapters by this summer. “We are determined to try to push this, if possible, to finalize it, being aware that there will be a new administration that will have a word on it,” Malmström argued. “If we are to finish this before the end of the year, of course we need to enter the end-game by the summer”.
However, once again the 2016 seems to be way too optimistic. Reuters quoted some US congressional leaders saying that the TPP deal is unlikely to get a vote before the November presidential election, the TTIP is virtually certain to be left to President Barack Obama’s successor.
Commissioner Malmström said she was determined not to let US campaign rhetoric against free trade jobs stall TTIP negotiations. It will be interesting to see though whether the rising American opposition against TTIP is just a matter of rhetoric or if it’s rooted a bit deeper in the US public opinion than what Brussels thinks.