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18th Nov 2018

TTIP: US yet to approve EU investor court plan

  • New York stock exchnage (Photo: Dan Nguyen @ New York City)

The United States “understands” why the European Union wants to include an investor court system in the proposed EU-US free trade agreement, discussed in Brussels this week, but the US' chief negotiator refrained from giving a substantive analysis of the EU plan.

“We’ve received the proposal fairly recently,” said Dan Mullaney at a press conference on Friday (26 February), wrapping up the twelfth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

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  • EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero (l) with his US counterpart (Photo: European Commission)

“We do understand the concerns that are behind the proposal,” he noted, but did not say whether he liked the idea or not, only that the two sides would discuss it further.

“I can’t say at this point what the outcome of those discussions are going to be, but we are pursuing those discussions with full understanding of what the objectives are behind these provisions and with a focus on how best we can achieve what are essentially commonly shared goals and outcomes in this area.”

This week was the first time that the two sides discussed the European proposal for an investor court system (ICS), which was announced last year as a substitute for the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system.

“Investment protection is a highly complex subject,” said Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU’s chief negotiator.

“This round marks the beginning of the process of discussions in this area, and we have spent significant time understanding each others’ proposals better and [are] also starting to identify areas of convergence."

However, no decisions were made.

“We haven’t yet reached the point where we are already beginning drafting common language,” Garcia Bercero noted.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem proposed the court last September as an alternative to ISDS. Critics feared an ISDS deal under TTIP would empower US firms to sue EU governments should laws or policies run against their interests.

But despite the alternative, protests remain.

On Monday, Greenpeace activists protested outside the negotiating venue in Brussels. They believe that the ICS court is just as dangerous.

“[Negotiators] say they want to protect environmental, health and labour standards, but instead they are giving foreign corporations exclusive rights to challenge these same standards in a special court,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

Garcia Bercero and Mullaney are “not at all frustrated” by the level of opposition to TTIP, they both said.

“We are continuously ready to engage with everyone in Europe who has a view on TTIP. We are ready to meet, we are ready to discuss,” said the European negotiator.

“We believe this continued policy of engagement, of transparency, is the best way to convince European citizens that there are no risks and a lot of benefits in the TTIP negotiations,” he added.

And not everyone is against TTIP.

Lobby group Copa-Cogeca said Thursday on behalf of European farmers that they “strongly support the TTIP negotiations for a comprehensive and balanced outcome”.

The group’s secretary-general, Pekka Pesonen, said instead that a rival agreement between the United States and eleven countries around the Pacific Ocean could pose a threat to the European agricultural sector.

The US recently signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, with countries like Japan and Australia.

“If the TPP agreement from the Pacific region is ratified and implemented before we can conclude anything, that would give a comparative advantage to our competitors, especially in these two countries, Japan and US,” said Pesonen at a press conference Thursday.

The EU and US meanwhile said they still hoped to conclude TTIP talks in 2016.

“Let me be clear. We want to finish this year, but we do not favour an early harvest, or a TTIP light. We want an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard agreement,” said Dan Mullaney, echoing similar words by his European counterpart.

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