Wednesday

22nd May 2019

MEPs set course on US trade talks

  • Bernd Lange, the centre-left German MEP who steered the resolution through parliament, is happy with the result (Photo: European Parliament)

EU-US trade talks should be transparent and any agreement should protect workers' rights, personal data and public services, MEPs said Wednesday while rejecting a private arbitration court.

The resolution - months in the making due to heated debates on a controversial special court that allows firms to sue governments -was backed by 436 MEPs, with 241 against.

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The final text on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) allows for a more public system for businesses wanting to sue governments.

German centre-left Bernd Lange, who led the file through the parliament, said the outcome of the vote was exactly what he was hoping for.

“We can send out a clear signal to the European commission and our partners across the Atlantic,” he told reporters in Strasbourg.

Lange said there are now clear demands for the future negotiations to make sure fiscal and environmental dumping is prevented.

“We demand a more transparent process, robust workers' rights and protection for personal data and public services,” he said.

The parliament wants any deal to also exclude US restrictions on foreign ownership of transport services and airlines. Public services must also be excluded, they say.

TTIP, which aims to cut tariff and regulatory barriers between the EU and the US, has generated sharp divides.

It deals with issues like health, food, labour, product safety, environment, social standards as well as privacy standards.

The European commission, which is the chief negotiator with Washington, says the deal could increase the EU's GDP by around 0.5 percent.

EU commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmstrom in a debate on Tuesday told MEPs it would create more jobs, noting that some 4.7 million are already linked to exports to the US.

“TTIP would help increase that number,” she said.

BusinessEurope, a pro-business group, said MEPs had sent a "strong and positive signal to TTIP negotiators" and said both sides should "step up their efforts in the coming rounds to ensure tangible results soon".

But the potential trade deal has its critics.

Some 2 million people have already signed an online petition to scrap the talks altogether over fears the deal would benefit big business, lower standards, and cut jobs.

At the parliament, opposition has come primarily from the Greens, the far-left and far-right groups, as well as several dozen MEPs in the centre-left group.

"It [TTIP] is an immense market without any kind of common governance, where companies can take countries to court and claim compensation should any new national regulation threaten their profits,” said Ernest Maragall, Catalan member of the Greens/EFA group.

ISDS, the private arbitration system where companies can sue governments, has been one of the most controversial issues.

The resolution says ISDS should be replaced with a new system “subject to democratic principles and scrutiny.”

Lange, for his part, says it means ISDS is dead.

Monique Goyens, the director of Beuc, a pan-EU organisation representing consumer groups, expressed doubts.

“Opposition to ISDS continues to grow and will not be appeased with sketchy compromises,” she said.

Critics also say the deal, despite some ouvertures by the commission last November, is still being hammered out in secret and that the promises of job spikes and GDP increases are exaggerated.

The 10th round of talks with the US is set for 13 to 17 July in Brussels.

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