Despite the huge protests and the many critics of the past two months, the 15th round of TTIP negotiations took place as planned last week in New York City. With the American elections getting closer and a growing scepticism in the local European parliaments, many saw the EU-US trade deal as almost dead. Now it seems the two sides are determined to reverse the trend in a last attempt to save the deal and negotiators said it loud: “negotiations will continue”.
“We came to New York with one objective – to make as much progress as possible in our trade talks with the US”, EU’s Chief TTIP Negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said immediately at the beginning of the final press conference of NYC meetings. “The reasons to continue these talks are as strong as three years ago when we started negotiating this biggest bilateral trade agreement in the world”, added Mr. Bercero. But this didn’t seem that obvious just few days ago.
The last twelve weeks have been a never-ending succession of events for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. After having significantly lost support from Germany and France, with Economy Minister and Minister for Foreign Trade respectively calling for an end of the talks, the TTIP found itself on the brink of collapse. Huge protests with hundreds of thousands flooding the streets in major European cities carried more pessimism around the proposed EU-US deal.
Then the trade ministers from twelve EU countries openly asked to EU’s trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström to save the deal and to throw support behind it, and thus the TTIP project seemed to regain some momentum. Despite that, Commissioner Malmström also admitted her doubts and that the chances to conclude negotiations before the end of the year looked increasingly “unlikely”. New York’s 15th round of negotiations became crucial ever since.
All eyes on NYC
According to Mr. Bercero and his American counterpart Dan Mullaney, the outcome of latest TTIP talks round was positive. “Our teams have worked extremely hard and have made significant progress in a number of areas”, underscored the EU Chief Negotiator Bercero. “The negotiators have spent a lot of time discussing the regulatory area, including regulatory coherence, technical barriers to trade, plants and animals health (SPS) and the nine specific sectors identified for cooperation before the talks has begun”, he continued.
The nine sectors Mr. Bercero mentioned in his speech represent indeed a very hot open topic, as they affect the most sensible areas of the negotiations. The nine sectors are: cars, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, cosmetics, ICT, pesticide, engineering, medical devices and textiles. Earlier this year, the European Consumer Organisation, BEUC, raised concerns over the risks of TTIP increasing consumer exposure to toxic chemicals. According to BEUC, the EU’s chemical risks control system could be potentially weakened by “the nature and scope of the transatlantic trade deal” itself, as the European Sting reported back in February. “Progress in some of those sectors is very encouraging”, Mr. Bercero declared.
“Progress” was indeed the key word of New York City’s TTIP session, according to what US Chief TTIP Negotiator Dan Mullaney declared at the wrap up conference. “We have made excellent progress over the past few days”, he pointed last Friday. “We have heard some skeptical voices about TTIP lately, but I want to emphasize that the United States remains fully engaged in these negotiations and is as committed as ever to their success”, Mr. Mullaney also declared. “We remain ready to move forward on an agreement that is in our mutual economic interest”, he added.
New York TTIP talks round apparently helped the EU-US trade pact to win back the support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who showcased a renewed interest towards the free trade deal last week. Chancellor Merkel said the EU and the US should continue to negotiate the TTIP “as long as possible”, as reported by Reuters, despite opposition in many European countries. “We are still continuing the discussions about TTIP and I think we should continue them as long as possible”, Merkel told a meeting of the German BGA trade body on Wednesday. “We will never fall below the standards set by the European Union”, she said.
US election knot
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel still looks very cautious though. Mr. Gabriel told the BGA trade group he did not believe the TTIP trade talks could be completed this year. “I expect that we’ll need a new start after the US president election”, Gabriel said. What’s still not clear is more in general TTIP’s future with a new US administration in place. Both Democrat front runner Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump signalled very poor support to huge trade agreements like Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and of course the TTIP. Mr. Trump has strongly condemned both deals as “job-killers” and Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly voiced an end to America’s “unconditional support for global free trade”, which would allegedly undermine the jobs of American workers.
A radical change
All in all, if it’s any true that the TTIP is not yet dead, it is also true that many things have changed around the gigantic EU-US trade deal. Despite the optimism of both chief trade negotiators, none of them could deny last Friday that they have formally given up on the idea of concluding TTIP talks this year under Obama administration.
Mr. Mullaney said both sides aim to continue to make progress in the coming months, but also admitted all parties expect TTIP negotiations to be halted in 2017 primarily due to the United States elections. US negotiator Mullaney indeed said there could be still “so much” the two sides can accomplish in the remaining time of the Obama administration, but never mentioned concrete achievements and deadlines. This basically says there is no concrete timeline on how EU and US sides will use the remaining months of the Obama era.
The trade ministers of the European Union are planning to meet once more to discuss TTIP during a Council meeting on November 11, which will be just three days after the US presidential elections, according to EU negotiator Bercero. They will advise on the way forward after then. “In the meantime, the EU’s head of states at European Council should also be able to have a discussion on trade issues, including on the state of play of the negotiations with the United States”, stressed Mr. Bercero.
No date was set for a new round of negotiations yet though.