An Overview of the TTIP Negotiations after the Sixth Round in Brussels
At the G-8 summit in June last year, the United States and European Union agreed to begin the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). All parties involved were enthusiastic about the start of negotiations for a new trade treaty. Leaders publicly supported what could be the largest free trade zone in the world: President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, and Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke about the benefits their countries would receive from its creation. The aim was to enter into the negotiations immediately and to conduct them as ambitiously and quickly as possible—with a final version ready to sign in a few years.
The first round of negotiations was overshadowed by the spy scandal. Negotiations did start as planned, however, despite voices calling to stop the talks because of the actions of the NSA and the U.S. government. In February 2014, the EU Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht and the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman met to take stock of the process. Although they attempted to make it sound as if the negotiations were making good progress and a first draft of the treaty could be finished soon, the underlying tone was that the “negotiations need to step up a gear.”
The European Commission hosted the sixth round of EU-U.S. negotiations in Brussels from July 14-18, 2014, where criticism was at its peak. It is rare to have so much opposition and such a wide divide between supporters and opponents of negotiations for something that has not yet happened. In between the talks of the sixth round, the opponents of the treaty in Europe organized into a new “European Citizen Initiative” (ECI) known as “Stop TTIP.” Nearly 150 organizations joined together in the 47th ECI. Their aim is to end the negotiations of both TTIP and the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement (CETA). Their main critique is that the treaties and their respective rules, which would affect 500 million people in the 28 member states, are currently being negotiated in an un-democratic manner behind closed doors. The major concern is the planned regulation on investment protection, where economic interests seem to be the focus at the expense of consumer protection, the welfare state, or environmental protection. On July 15, 2014, the ECI filed its registration application to become a formal Initiative at the European Commission and it is expected that the decision will be made in the fall.
Sixth Round: Brussels, July 14-18, 2014
This sixth round of negotiations in Brussels was impacted by technical details. In the State of Play published before the meeting, discussion points ranged from classic market access issues such as areas of tariffs and services, to regulatory components, sustainable development, and the environment. The main focus of the round was to move forward in the area of regulatory cooperation. The EU also offered to open up the services market, which can now be discussed by the negotiators. One of the main critiques of many opponents of the treaty, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, was put on hold while the EU underwent a period of public consultation. In March 2014, the EU Commission launched an online forum for public consultation on the ISDS mechanism. The deadline for the public consultation was July 13, 2014, and the European Commission received nearly 150,000 online contributions. The Commission is currently analyzing the replies and will report on the outcomes. It is unlikely that the analysis will be completed before November and only then can the Commission take the next steps on the ISDS mechanism.
Daily Progress of the Sixth Round
Tuesday July 15: The new European Parliament had a plenary debate regarding TTIP. Before the session, European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht addressed three of the primary concerns with TTIP: “alleged lack of transparency, the alleged risk of lowering of regulatory standards […] and ISDS.”
Wednesday July 16: The next day, there was another round of stakeholder presentations on TTIP. The negotiators met with over 400 representatives of civil society from both sides of the Atlantic, who each had five minutes to share their opinions on various aspects of TTIP. This is one of the attempts of the European Commission to make the negotiations more transparent.
Friday July 18: The meetings were concluded by a press conference on Friday afternoon by EU chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero and U.S. chief negotiator Dan Mullaney. Mr. Bercero stated that there were “intense discussions in most of the areas we intend to cover in this agreement.” In his view, it was a week that was “essential to prepare the ground for the political decisions” at a later point in the negotiations.
Drawing a Conclusion after One Year of Negotiations
After a year of negotiations, progress has been very slow. Besides hopes to have a draft of the agreement by the end of this year, important sections of the treaty such as the ISDS mechanism have been put on hold due to massive public criticism. In addition, in other areas it seems that the negotiations are stuck due to the positions of the negotiators. While the U.S. requested complete tariff elimination in TTIP, the EU wants to exclude sensitive agricultural products. This is due to public concern of lowering health and safety standards. On the other hand, the American side does not want to further open markets, especially in public procurement policies. At the moment, it is still the norm in several areas that Merrill Lynch public offices are only allowed to give contracts to American companies. In addition, there are very different regulations on product testing, safety requirements, and environmental standards of products on both sides of the Atlantic. The removal of such technical restraints is another roadblock in the negotiations.
Progress in all areas during this round of negotiations is insignificant. Maybe the suggestion made by Bernd Lange, member of the European Parliament and chairman of the Trade Committee, to put a hold on the negotiations until the composition of the new EU Commission and the U.S. mid-term election, is a good idea. It could give room to assess the negotiations so far, to discuss crucial points, and then to start fresh in November. In addition, it would give the American side the necessary political support to make compromises in the talks. Public skepticism and criticism is at its peak. A five-day round of negotiations with no results to report does not help to win public trust for a treaty. Further negotiations at this point will increase the public feeling of being left out and will convey the idea that their concerns are not being addressed.