Steady progress in all three negotiating areas
Market access – here negotiators discussed three core elements - tariffs, trade in services and public procurement. On tariffs the EU and US had already had an initial exchange of offers. On services and public procurement, negotiators examined how to move towards exchanging offers.
Regulation - negotiators were joined by a broad cross-section of experts and regulators from both sides to discuss:
regulatory coherence and increasing regulatory compatibility;
technical barriers to trade (TBTs), on which both sides had already made written proposals;
sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures – preparing the ground for written proposals in due course.
The EU and the US also continued to explore ways of achieving greater regulatory compatibility in certain key industries: pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, medical devices, automotive, and chemicals.
Rules – discussions included three areas where negotiators are developing innovative approaches:
sustainable development, labour and the environment - to build on what is already covered by existing EU and US trade deals;
trade in energy and raw materials - an area in which the EU wishes to include an agreed framework in TTIP;
customs and trade facilitation - simplifying and streamlining procedures, especially important, since lengthy, complex customs clearance rules hit smaller firms the hardest and can deter entrepreneurs from selling overseas.
Both the EU and US Chief Negotiators reaffirmed their commitment to making steady progress in all areas of the negotiations throughout 2014. They also agreed to hold a further round of talks in Washington before the summer. The European Commission will confirm the dates as soon as these have been fixed on the dedicated TTIP-webpages.
The Financial Times (subscription) reports however that Germany has introduced a stumbling block to the negotiations by insisting that any pact must exclude a contentious dispute settlement provision. The “investor-state dispute settlement” mechanism, or ISDS, would allow private investors to sue governments if they felt local laws threatened their investments.
Earlier this year, the European Commission suspended negotiations over the ISDS clause to allow for a 90-day public consultation exercise, expected to be launched within days. That move was intended to help defuse some of the opposition and explain why an arbitration mechanism was needed. But opposition to ISDS has only grown since then. Now, in the biggest blow yet to those seeking its inclusion in the deal, Berlin has decided that it will push for the exclusion of the ISDS provisions in the deal. A spokesman for the economy ministry in Berlin said on Friday that the government had relayed its position to officials in Brussels, where negotiators have ended a week of talks over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Brigitte Zypries, a junior economy minister, told the German parliament that Berlin was determined to exclude arbitration rights from the TTIP deal. “From the perspective of the [German] federal government, US investors in the EU have sufficient legal protection in the national courts", she told parliament.
The German position pits Berlin against the Commission, the US and business groups. All of them argue that the transatlantic deal is an opportunity to update arbitration rights that already feature in existing bilateral investment treaties and are often open to abuse.
The German position may still be open to some negotiation – particularly if both the EU and the US agree to allow arbitration only in extreme cases. Berlin’s final stand may also depend on the European consultation process. But Berlin’s move is a sign of the complicated political context the transatlantic deal faces in Europe.
Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU’s chief negotiator, pointed out that the EU’s original mandate to negotiate specifically included an ISDS provision and had been approved by Member States, including Germany. “We are working on the basis of the mandate that has been given to us", said Mr Garcia Bercero.
S&Ds will make sure TTIP respects core EU values and standards
Before the public hearing on TTIP on 18 March, S&D president Hannes Swoboda said: “There are many figures circulating about how many jobs and how much growth the partnership could trigger. However, I am sceptical about figures. I am sure that such an agreement between these two partners – who together account for almost half of the world's GDP – can open many possibilities for EU workers and small businesses, provided that EU standards – in terms of fundamental rights, labour rights, environment, health, access to public services – are guaranteed across the Atlantic.
“We the Socialists and Democrats want transparent negotiations where the Parliament and citizens can have a say. And then we, as policymakers, will decide responsibly whether to accept or reject the agreement. And we will certainly never accept an agreement that undermines the core rights of our citizens. Regarding the controversial investor-state dispute resolution mechanism (ISDS), we think this should not be necessary between two partners with solid judicial systems.”
S&D vice-president Véronique de Keyser said: “We need to sort out the truths and the myths about TTIP. Many rumours are circulating which are not true. It is not true that everything is being negotiated in secret or that we are not informed. MEPs on the Parliament's international trade committee in the Parliament are informed. At the same time there are many things that separate the United States and the European Union, and it will be difficult to bridge that gap. In particular, we don’t want to see these differences solved through deregulation. I am also concerned about any negative influence of the American private educational system affecting public education in the European Union. In my country training for adults is a public service and this is something we must protect.
“The negotiations have just begun. This is the beginning of the work that we will all have to do on both sides of the Atlantic. Any decision on TTIP, either for or against, will only be possible with the active participation of civil society. Only with civil society will the key battles be won in the European Parliament. And, through meetings and conferences like this one, the S&D Group will continue to be closely engaged in the decision-making process and in informing citizens.”
AmCham EU believes that a comprehensive and ambitious EU-US trade and investment agreement will enhance a growth-oriented investment climate in Europe and the United States that would benefit business, employment and all citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. This could, in turn, ensure that consumers have access to more innovative goods and services that are both lower in cost and delivered more efficiently. This effort has the ability to release the combined potential and vitality of the two markets to the benefit of all.
See also ViEUws video: American business confident no issue can derail talks, says AmCham EU