22nd Sep 2020

EU commission sheds light on US trade pact documents

  • Malmstrom pledged greater transparency in trade talks with the US (Photo: European Commission)

The EU on Wednesday (7 January) announced it would be making some of its proposals for a free trade agreement with the US open to the public.

“For the first time ever the commission is publishing specific legal proposals while we are negotiating a bilateral trade agreement,” EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in Brussels.

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A number of EU negotiating documents on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) pact are now available on a commission website.

The pact aims to remove trade barriers and converge regulations on both sides of the Atlantic, but it has been the source of controversy in Europe.

TTIP critics have raised concerns that the pact would see products such as chlorine-treated chicken being sold on the EU market. Other concerns include the scope of an investor state dispute settlement (ISDS), which allows foreign companies to take governments to court.

Malmstrom said Wednesday’s move is part of a larger transparency initiative launched by the commission in November and an effort to dispel certain “myths and misconceptions” about the agreement.

Her announcement coincided with the publication of a EU ombudsman investigation telling the commission it needs to publish the documents.

The commission has so far on-lined eight of the EU’s proposals for legal text.

The issues cover competition, food safety and animal and plant health, custom issues, technical barriers to trade, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and government-to-government dispute settlement (GGDS).

It also published new position papers on engineering, vehicles, and sustainable development.

Malmstrom said more documents and texts would be released, possibly in February, when US negotiators arrive in Brussels to continue the next round of talks.

Some issues will remain in the dark.

Legal texts on the most sensitive issues like market access will not be disclosed until after the talks have been finalised.

Market access includes the tariff treatment of different products and what duties will be eliminated.

Examples include cars where the EU imposes a 10 percent duty as opposed to the US' 2.5 percent equivalent.

“These are very sensitive issues that you need to have certain secrecy in the negotiations, so they cannot be published, but we will try to publish as we go by and with explanatory texts as much as possible,” said the trade commissioner.

Other caveats for the transparency drive include common negotiating texts where both sides have put forward proposals. One such text, on SMEs, already exists but the commission will only publish its own position.

EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said such texts should be made available to the EU public before the TTIP agreement is finalised.

“The commission should also inform the US of the need to justify any request by them not to disclose a given document. The commission needs to be convinced by this reasoning,” she said.

The European Commission says it wants to have a “skeleton” agreement ready by the end of the year but numerous issues remain unresolved.

EU negotiators want a chapter on energy but US reservations are said to stem from a US law, which prohibits – with the exception of Canada - the export of oil to other countries.

The Americans, for their part, are keeping their positions secret. Only Congress and some special interest representatives who have signed confidentiality agreements have access to them.

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