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23 February 2014

FT: US pushes for greater transparency in EU business regulation

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The move is likely to face resistance in Brussels and draw the ire of critics in Europe, who are already concerned that a proposed TTIP would weaken consumer regulations and give US corporations the right to challenge European laws as trade barriers.

In specific proposals put forward in closed-door negotiations in recent weeks, the US has stepped up the campaign and made clear that it is one of Washington’s main negotiating priorities, according to people close to the talks. US negotiators argue that the TTIP provides an opportunity to update the way the EU does business and that such a move would help avoid transatlantic differences in future regulations. There is, they argue, too little transparency in the current European process, with businesses given too few opportunities to see or comment on proposed regulations.

US companies also complain that they are often shut out of the regulatory process in Europe because the EU system can depend on closed consultations with local industry groups that make it difficult for outsiders to register their concerns. And, because European companies can take advantage of public comment periods during the drafting of regulation in the US, officials there argue that the current imbalance is unfair.

“There is no one way to do this", said Michael Punke, US ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, who is overseeing the EU-US talks. “But we think that processes that are transparent, participatory and accountable – where it is clear what regulations are being considered, all interested stakeholders have input and the final products are based on science or evidence – are most likely to produce the best regulations, ones that minimise unnecessary divergences.”

The US has proposed that EU regulators be required to publish the proposed texts of regulations and open them to public comment. It also wants regulators to be required to consider comments and explain why they had adopted – or failed to adopt – outside suggestions when they finalise regulations.

The proposal is facing some resistance in Brussels. Karel De Gucht, European trade commissioner, said adopting a US-style “consult and comment” regulatory system was “impossible”. But in an interview with the Financial Times, Mr De Gucht also conceded that the EU’s current public consultation system did need to be revised and said the EU would be willing to make some changes. “We are ready to work in that direction but we cannot completely copy their [the US] system", he said.

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© Financial Times

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